Path length: 13.3 miles
Width: 400 yards
County: Fond du Lac
There were 12 confirmed tornadoes in the state of Wisconsin on July 18, 1996. The most devastating was given a rating of F5. It crossed just over 13 miles through Fond du Lac county striking the village of Oakfield, population at the time of 1,000. Max winds were estimated at 265 mph. 4 homes were completely swept from their foundations. The Friday Canning Company was leveled. Millions of empty cans were carried a distance over 50 miles. Per the NWS survey, a few automobiles were thrown a distance of 400 feet. Approximately 500 acres of crops were destroyed. A state of emergency was declared by then Governor Tommy Thompson.
Storm Data Entry
A violent tornado struck the village of Oakfield at about 1815CST after it touched down 4 miles WNW of the village. During its approach on Oakfield it intensified to a F3 rating. When it tore through the village it intensified to a F4, but along its path 1 to 4 miles east of the village it intensified to F5 strength (estimated 265 mph winds). In this span 4 homes were completely swept clean off their foundations and a couple automobiles became airborne missles for a distance of about 400 feet. The core width of the most intense damage was about 150 to 200 yards, although at times, some secondary damage was observed in a 400 yard wide path.
Oakfield residents heard local sirens about 8 minutes before the tornado entered the village. Miraculously, no one was killed, but there were 12 injuries. Some of the injured were hospitalized. Along the tornadoes path, 60 homes and 6 businesses were destroyed. An additional 130 homes and businesses were damaged.
In Oakfield, a commercial canning company was devastated. Two churches in the village were also destroyed, as well as numerous vehicles. In the rural areas along the tornadoes path, 18 barns and many sheds were destroyed or damaged, and about 500 acres of crops were wiped out. Total damage amounts were $39.5 million in public/private property, and $900,000 in crop losses. Residents reported that they had difficulty “popping” their ears as the tornado roared through their neighborhood.
Prior to entering Oakfield, the tornado hopped and skipped a few times, and multiple vortices were observed at times during its life cycle. Witnesses reported that the tornado “paused” for a minute or so on the southeast edge of Oakfield. As the tornado tore through Oakfield it changed it’s heading to east. Corn fields just east of Oakfield were reduced to short 1 to 4 inch high stubble, and burn marks were clearly visible in the fields. In the third segment of the tornadoes life, when it turned northeast at a point 5.5 miles east of Oakfield, it’s strength diminished rapidly. By the time it “roped out” 1 mile NW of Eden, it’s supporting mesocyclone’s position on WSR-88D Doppler was about 5 miles to the south! Debris was found east to the Lake Michigan shoreline, and cancelled checks were later found 125 miles E/SE near Muskegon, MI!
Tornado Photos via a Case Study of this Event from cimss.ssec.wisc.edu
Photos via NWS Milwaukee
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Archived Tornado Talk Podcast about this event. Hear the history from survivors and from Science and Operations Officer Chad Entremont of the NWS Jackson, MS.
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