High temperatures and lots of humidity were the perfect ingredients for severe weather in the Upper Midwest late last week. Heavy rains and storms capable of producing tornados came through Minnesota and Iowa and converged on Wisconsin in the evening hours of Thursday, July 22. The National Weather Service confirmed three tornadoes touched down in southeast Wisconsin. At first, it was reported there were seven tornadoes spotted that evening. Aside from hundreds of trees, only a couple barns, a pole shed and garage were damaged from the tornados that ranged in strength from an F-Zero to an F-Two.

According to the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management parts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, saw up to 7.5 inches of rain in just two hours.

Dozens of flights were canceled at Milwaukee-General Mitchell International Airport. Air traffic controllers were evacuated from their tower because of a tornado warning earlier in the evening. They were allowed back about an hour later, and a few planes were allowed to land and take off before flooding forced officials to close the airport. Floodwaters began covering parts of the runways, and at one point also blocked outdoor ticketing and baggage claim areas.

Floodwater rushed through city streets dumping water and sewage into the basements of hundreds of homes. It was also estimated 80 percent of a suburban high school was damaged by the flash flood.

Damage in Milwaukee County is estimated at $28 million. A declaration disaster from County Executive Scott Walker estimates that Thursday's torrential rains caused more than $10 million in damage to public property and another $18 million to private property.


The heavy rains and floods also resulted in the creation of two large sinkholes. The first in Milwaukee swallowed a large SUV as it approached a downtown intersection on Thursday night. The second came days later on a state highway north of Janesville, Wisconsin.

Across the state, in the southwest corner, roads and bridges were washed away in rural parts of Grant County from heavy rains early Saturday, July 24. The infrastructure damage is estimated at $600,000, according to Steve Braun, emergency management director.

All across southern Wisconsin, insurance companies are dealing with claims on property damage and water damage related to vehicles.

Rivers in southern Wisconsin are expected to crest this week. The Rock River at Newville is predicted to peak at 10.3 feet. That is about a foot lower than predicted just after the rains fell last week and nearly five feet below its record high in June 2008.

Heavy rains swelled other small rivers that feed into the Mississippi and flooded low-lying areas in parts of the northern Corn Belt.

According to Reuters, high water filling the upper Mississippi River from will halt commercial traffic there this week. Six locks on the key waterway linking farms in the U.S. Midwest with grain export terminals at the Gulf of Mexico will be closed for several days as machinery used to operate the locks is moved to higher ground, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

A dam in northeast Iowa was breached by rising floodwaters on the Maquoketa River on Saturday, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

The Wisconsin Crop Progress report says many fields in the southern half of the state were flooded, while wind and hail in northern Marathon County stripped soybeans, twisted corn and lodged small grains.

Rain in Northwest Wisconsin closed the state’s largest outdoor farm show. Wisconsin Farm Technology Days shut the gates just one hour after opening on its third and final day last Thursday after rains made the field south of River Falls too saturated for traffic.

Winds and water weren’t the only culprits in the storms. The Wisconsin Ag Connection reported lightning claimed the life of eight dairy cows in Green County along Wisconsin’s southern border. A Monroe-area farm family says lightning struck a tree in their pasture on Thursday night, killing eight dairy cows that were standing beneath it. PD

Karen Lee