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Tens of thousands without power, schools canceled after storms

Tornadoes reported west of Wausau Tuesday night, leaving widespread damage

Downed branches and power lines block a Madison sidewalk after powerful storms ripped through the city Tuesday night.
Downed branches and power lines block a Madison sidewalk after powerful storms ripped through the city Tuesday night. Shawn Johnson/WPR

More than 25,000 people throughout Wisconsin were without power early Wednesday afternoon after violent storms ripped through the state Tuesday night.

Two tornadoes were reported by local law enforcement west of Wausau, in the villages of Edgar and Unity. Crews were working to clear damage from those storms Wednesday morning.

Downed trees cover a roof and shed in Unity
Downed trees cover a roof and shed in Unity, Wis., west of Wausau, after a tornado touched down on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Rob Mentzer/WPR

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In Unity, Layah Mariani’s house was across the street from downed trees and damaged mobile homes. She said her family was sheltering in their home when the tornado hit.

“It literally came right down the road, I feel like, and hit them,” she said, gesturing at the damage. “We just have a single hole in our siding and that’s it. … Our patio set blew up against our house, so we just heard a lot of banging. It was crazy.” 

On Wednesday morning, Mariani, with her young son Callum, set out a cooler of sodas and waters for work crews. To the top of the cooler, they taped a sign that read “FREE.” 

Elsewhere, debris from damaged roofs and buildings hung in the trees. A garage had been leveled. Across the town, workers used chainsaws on fallen trees and utility vehicles were carting away branches and other waste.

Debris is seen in a tree as workers clean up tornado damage in Unity, Wis., May 22, 2024. Rob Mentzer/WPR
A home’s garage was destroyed in the storms Tuesday night in Unity, Wis. On Wednesday, crews were cleaning up downed trees and other debris. Rob Mentzer/WPR
A team of women work on cleanup from tornado damage in Unity, Wis., May 22, 2024. Rob Mentzer/WPR

In Madison, the city’s public schools were closed “due to unsafe conditions” according to a note on the Madison Metropolitan School District website. Some schools in Green Bay also closed due to a lack of power.

The city of Madison reported multiple streets closed due to fallen trees or other storm debris. Crews worked throughout the night to clear the blockages, the city said, and are continuing work throughout the day.

“Damage has been widespread and severe,” read the statement from the City of Madison. “It will take time as crews work to address all of these high priority concerns.”

At 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, Madison Gas and Electric was working to restore power to more than 14,000 customers, and told residents it could take several days.

UW Health also announced they were closing several clinics in the Madison area due to power outages.

Police tape surrounds a downed power line
Police tape surrounds a downed power line in Madison following severe storms that ripped through the area Tuesday night. Shawn Johnson/WPR

The powerful series of storms swept through the state Tuesday night, with the National Weather Service issuing repeated tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings.

Rebecca Kruk is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Green Bay office. She said wind gusts reached 70 mph.

“We received lots of wind damage across much of central Wisconsin into east-central Wisconsin from the thunderstorm and lots of the damage was related to straight-line wind damage,” Kruk said.

In Unity, meteorologist Kurt Kotenberg of the National Weather Service-Green Bay was surveying damage Wednesday morning from what he called “incredibly fast-moving storms.”

He noted that this storm came early in the season. Peak severe weather season in Wisconsin is from the middle of June through July. 

“If you haven’t made a plan to make sure you have a way to receive warning information, and a place to shelter if we start issuing tornado warnings or severe thunderstorm warnings, this is definitely a reminder to start making those plans and being ready,” Kotenberg said. “We have several more months ahead of us where we could see severe weather and tornadoes here in Wisconsin.”

No additional severe weather was expected Wednesday. No injuries had been reported as of Wednesday morning.