August 27, 2016 / by Anton Kapela

Where did the summer go?  Not much in the way of "heavy-hitting" severe weather in southeastern Wisconsin this year.  That's OK with me.  I don't wish severe weather on anyone.  It may not seem like it, but the U.S. still averages the most tornadoes annually.

I've never chased severe storms or tornadoes.   I guess I got my fill while working for the NWS for 36.5 years.  However, I did observe the April 21, 1974 tornado that eventually tracked northeast through Oshkosh, WI.  I wasn't chasing, but rather, driving back to UW-Madison after visiting friends in Neenah, WI.  I drove dab-smack into a squall line which was moving through eastern Wisconsin.  Due to heavy rains, poor visibility, hailstones and gusty winds on the order of 40 to 50 mph, I pulled over to the side of I-41 a bit south of the STH 26 intersection to wait out the storm (other vehicles did the same).

Eventually the rain and hail stopped but it remained windy with my car displaying a slight rocking motion (so much for the calm before the tornado idea!).  From my I-41 location I then observed the development of a funnel cloud and then the tornado.  Yes, I couldn't believe it!

I thought I was about 2-3 miles away from the tornado but years later found out I was about 7-8 miles away!   Guess I can't judge distances better than anyone else!

I took 21 pictures (35mm slides) of the tornado as it moved northeast, however, the battery of my Cannon Super-8 movie camera quickly ran dead.

Here are a couple of the scanned pictures: 

Above I chose to show picture #1, #9 and #18.  Obviously, it was a multiple-vortex tornado, as revealed in #18.  The tornado in picture #18 was west/northwest of my surface position, but still southwest of Oshkosh.

The parent supercell thunderstorm moved northeast.  Therefore, the tornado was on the backside (rear) of the storm, relative to it motion.  This is pretty much standard for supercell thunderstorms.  Note, there was no rain in the immediate vicinity of this tornado.  However, in other cases, a tornado can become rain-wrapped and difficult to see.

Ultimately, per request, I had 560 duplicate slides made of the original 21.  Some folks wanted the complete set while others wanted one or two.  Number 18 was duplicated the most, naturally.  The tornado was well behind the barn.

You can find more information about this tornado on-line by using a browser and typing this phrase:  1974 Oshkosh tornado.

Since 1974 I've seen two rotating wall clouds but no other tornadoes.  None of the many homes or apartments I've lived in (in the Cleveland, OH, Sioux Falls, SD, and Milwaukee-Madison areas have been affected by tornado winds. Lucky?