A narrow band of fast-moving storms damaged several trees, homes and businesses, downed power lines and destroyed garages on Madison’s East Side early Saturday evening.
No one was injured and the damage from what is being called a tornado was largely limited to an area on the northwest side of East Washington Avenue between Highway 30 and Stoughton Road. Homeowners along Ridgeway Avenue appeared to receive the brunt of the damage but businesses facing East Washington Avenue were also damaged, with some forced to close for the evening.
Brian Hahn of the National Weather Service in Sullivan said the 40 mph tornado appeared on radar just as it was touching down around 5:10 p.m. The funnel cloud was confirmed by a Madison police officer, said Division Chief Scott Bavery of the Madison Fire Department.
“She actually thought she got caught in the middle of it,” Bavery said of the police officer. “There were lots of trees and wind moving around and some of the public said they got some good videos of it so it sounds like a confirmed tornado. The upside of this is we haven’t had any reports of injuries.”
The 4-Seasons Car Wash, 3206 E. Washington Ave., sustained significant roof damage, according to Bavery, while a power pole with a transformer was toppled behind Visions Night Club, 3554 E. Washington Ave. Part of the façade was ripped from the front of the nearby PDQ convenience store and a large privacy fence that separates the store’s property from adjacent homes was knocked over.
At the Access Community Health Center William T. Evjue facility at the corner of Wright Street and East Washington Avenue, the clinic’s roof was damaged, several trees were destroyed and a 6-foot-wide, 5-foot-high plastic sign from the health center went airborne. It landed more than a block away to the east at the corner of Ridgeway and Schmedman avenues across the street from the home of Vashon Jennings, who was on his front porch when the storm hit.
“I just dove into the house,” said Jennings, 43, who saw the sign flying through the air. “You could hear the trees falling but by that time I was in the house. It was quick. Real quick.”
Southern Wisconsin experienced scattered rain throughout Saturday with occasional appearances by the sun. The tornado surprised most who live in the neighborhood, including Britny Williams, 28, who lives about a block away from Jennings at 3522 Ridgeway Ave.
“I was just sitting at my computer, sending some e-mails, didn’t have headphones on, and the house started shaking,” Williams said. “It woke my husband up and he’s like, ‘downstairs, now.’ Our kitty was already down there. She knew what was up.”
Williams said her home was not damaged but further down the street, Steve Peters, 58, wasn’t as lucky. His back porch and his detached garage were destroyed by a more than 50-foot walnut tree that was toppled by the high winds. His neighbor’s garage was also destroyed, but by another tree.
Peters was returning from Token Creek with his camper that he was planning to winterize on Sunday. He said he ran into some wind near the airport but was shocked at the damage when he arrived home.
“It looked like a bomb went off,” said Peters, who also lost power and was planning to stay at a friend’s home Saturday night. “Somebody on Ridgeway must have peeved off the Big Guy.”
The storm littered East Washington Avenue with leaves and small twigs and twisted the traffic signals at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Wright Street. After a tornado warning was issued there was initial concern about damage in Sun Prairie but it was limited to a traffic light and a downed power line at Main and O’Keefe streets, according to a Sun Prairie police dispatcher.
In Madison, the storm was so isolated that across the street from Vision’s, the AutoZone and Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant remained open and a few blocks away, children continued to ride the carousel at Ella’s Deli.
“There was hardly any lightning with it, just some showers,” said Hahn from the National Weather Service. “It was a pretty weird deal.”
Here is a National Weather Service report on the tornado.
State Journal reporter Shelley K. Mesch contributed to this report.