Tornadoes spotted in Illinois, Wisconsin during rare winter severe weather threat

A damaging twister in Illinois has been rated EF-1. The National Weather Service is still working to determine the strength of an apparent tornado in southern Wisconsin.

CHICAGO – It may be February, but Chicago and Milwaukee experienced weather more typical of spring, with severe weather that triggered warnings on Thursday, with hail and even a few reported tornadoes – February twisters that up to now had been unprecedented in Wisconsin. 

Storm chaser Corey Gerken spotted a tornado just outside Henry, Illinois, late on Thursday afternoon as severe storms moved through the northern and central parts of the state.

Rotation was weak, but enough of the funnel was on the ground for the cyclone to be considered a tornado.

Storm chaser Brandon Copic chased the same storm and took a video of the aftermath, showing a semi-truck being flipped over and a barn destroyed. The National Weather Service, based in the Quad Cities, Iowa, said it was only the second February tornado in their area since 1950. 

NWS officials said Friday that the twister was on the ground for nearly 10 miles and had maximum winds of 110 mph. That makes it an EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Dozens of reports of hail ranging in size from a penny to a nickel to even a quarter came in across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.  The line of thunderstorms swept across Lake Michigan, eventually bringing more hail and 40-50 mph wind gusts to western Michigan.  

By the time sunset occurred, the SPC had already received around a dozen reports of severe weather, including two tornadoes.


2 tornadoes reported in Wisconsin

Severe storms in Wisconsin triggered at least two tornadoes in Wisconsin that set several firsts for the region, including triggering the first ever February Tornado Warnings in the state.  

The strongest was a twister near Evansville, about 20 miles south of Madison. According to the NWS, the tornado's path was a little more than 24 miles long and 500 yards wide. It had maximum winds of 135 mph, making it an EF-2.

"I had gone out on our back deck, and it was like, it was really weird, it was like a dark fog," Evansville resident Patty Pumfrey told FOX 6 Milwaukee. "And I’ve never quite seen that before and the tornado sirens were going off and on."

Video from Evansville showed a twister that appeared to be rope-like with plenty of lightning.

"I'm still kind of a little bit in shock that it happened, it's exciting," storm chaser Tom Purdy told FOX 6. "I think it's a great teaching and learning lesson that it can happen anytime anywhere, so storms need to be taken very seriously. Even if it is February, even if there is still snow on the ground, they still happen."

A weaker tornado was found to have caused damage near the town of Albany, about 10 miles southwest of Evansville. The NWS rated this twister an EF-1 with maximum winds of 110 mph and an 8-mile-long path.