A rare winter tornado churned through southern Wisconsin on Thursday, snapping power poles, downing large trees and damaging homes.
It was the state’s first recorded tornado in the month of February, according to Taylor Patterson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Milwaukee. Records date back to 1948.
“This is a very unusual time of year for Wisconsin to be getting tornadoes,” Patterson said. “We were also unusually warm yesterday.”
Several thunderstorms also traveled across Iowa and Illinois on Thursday, dropping hailstones that ranged from the size of peas to the size of ping pong balls. A tornado developed in northern Illinois during this extreme weather event, too.
High temperatures were about 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than usual on Thursday in parts of Wisconsin. More research would be needed to connect this rare, winter tornado to climate change, but scientists expect warmer temperatures, more frequent severe weather and more intense severe weather as a result of carbon pollution raising global temperatures.
“There is no clear way to say if climate change contributed, but that’s something we would have to do more research on,” Patterson.
Temperatures were so warm on Thursday that they touched or broke records from 1925. The mercury topped out at 59 degrees F in Madison and 59 in Milwaukee.
A strong El Niño pattern is likely contributing to chart-topping temperatures.