CONCORD — A National Weather Service meteorologist said a tornado struck the Town of Concord early Thursday morning leaving widespread damage in its wake, but amazingly no serious injuries or deaths were reported.
NWS Meteorologist Andy Boxell said there were two tornadoes that touched down outside of the City of Watertown. He said the two tornadoes were only on the ground for a few minutes.
Boxell said the tornado that struck Concord, which tossed tree limbs, lifted homes off their foundations and wrapped debris around trees like twist ties, hit the small town where County Highway E crosses Interstate 94 creating a swath of damage that reached back south to Watertown and north of the Town of Farmington.
He said the second tornado caused damage in Watertown just west and southwest of Watertown’s city limits.
“Based on our radar, there was tornadic activity in that area,” Boxell said.
He said wind gusts likely reached 60-70 mph.
“We had straight line winds along with the enhanced winds associated with the tornadoes themselves and lots of lightning, which is fairly common for storms like this one,” Boxell said. “This is one of the more significant storms for Watertown as far as the strength of the wind and tornado threat.”
He said this storm did not bring a great amount of rain to the area. Boxell said about an inch fell in Watertown and Juneau with just more than a half of inch of rain falling in Lake Mills and Fort Atkinson.
“The storm wasn’t a drought buster, but we will take what we can get,” he said.
One storm crossed Interstate 94 and caused extensive damage to the Village of Concord, including the community park in the Town of Concord, after it had heavily damaged an area north of the interstate.
Jim Zastrow could do nothing Thursday morning except wait for his insurance adjuster to arrive at his home along County Highway E in the Town of Concord.
“The back two walls of my home are gone,” he said looking at his residence. “It’s going to collapse any time now. There’s nothing I can do. It’s a total loss.”
Zastrow said he and his family headed down to their basement at 1:24 a.m. and walked out of it at 2:15 a.m.
“You could feel the entire house move,” he said. “The good thing is everyone walked away without a scratch.”
He said the real tragedy is the loss of his father’s barn, which stood across the road from Zastrow’s home and was recently used as a backdrop to a wedding July 17.
“It’s a real shame,” he said. “My dad, Lloyd Zastrow, had the barn for so many years and it’s gone.”
The barn, which once weathered rain, sleet and snow for more than a century and a half, was now a pile of splintered wood, twisted metal and pieces of insulation that rested on two tractors and a boat.
“Everything is down so I’m just waiting for the adjuster now,” he said. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”
Mike Mehlos agreed.
Mehlos, who lives at N955 County Highway E, was fixing a flat on his Ford Focus Thursday morning so he could pick up some electrical supplies before We Energies came out to his home to repair the electrical meter, which dangled from an outside wall with tree limbs supporting the power line to the residence.
The retired electrician said he wasn’t going to touch that job, but would need to contend with the numerous broken limbs of his weeping willow trees.
“We Energies can work on that one. I’m OK, but this day is going like crap,” he said.
Mehlos said he and his family took shelter in their basement with their Samsung tablet and watched the weather radar.
“We wanted to make sure the storm was past before we came back up,” he said. “We stayed down there for a good 45 minutes. We didn’t want to take any chances.”
As storms rolled through the area early Thursday morning, several customers of We Energies lost electricity.
More than 100 crew members were in the area late Thursday morning trying to restore electricity to customers, said Allison Trouy, spokeswoman for We Energies.
“The types of damage we are seeing are broken utility poles, downed power lines and trees falling on equipment,” Trouy said. “It (the storm) caused widespread damage to our system.”
As of noon Thursday, 167 of We Energies 16,634 customers in Dodge County remained without power. In Jefferson County, 1,871 of its 33,403 customers were without power. In Watertown, 71 customers remained without power as of midday.
“Since the storms blew through (the state), we had a peak of 43,000 We Energy customers without power. We are now down to 10,800 customers without power,” Trouy said at noon.
“So we are definitely making progress and crews will be out there as long as it takes until power is restored,” the spokeswoman said.
State of Emergency declaration
Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Thursday declaring a statewide State of Emergency following the severe storms affecting several regions of Wisconsin overnight.
“Last night’s storms affected communities from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, leaving many regions with widespread damage,” Evers said. “Wisconsinites are resilient, and I know first responders, utilities, and many across our state are working to respond today. I’m declaring a State of Emergency this morning to ensure state resources are available as we work together to get communities the support and help they need.”