Wind Gusts Stronger Than Category 1 Hurricane Reported in Wisconsin Amid Severe Storms

Wisconsin's Marathon County reported a 78 mph wind gust Wednesday night—more than the 74 mph sustained winds needed to classify a Category 1 hurricane—according to the National Weather Service.

The state saw severe thunderstorms between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan throughout the night, prompting tornado warnings and power outages for tens of thousands of people, the Associated Press reported.

Winds during the night in Merill in Lincoln County also neared hurricane force with a 70 mph gust, according to the weather service. Several trees and power lines were downed in the county because of the weather, according to the AP.

The tornado warnings expired by 2 a.m. on Thursday, but Governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency to spur relief efforts. The declaration activates the Wisconsin National Guard, as well as aid from state agencies.

Denny VanCleve, a meteorologist in Sullivan, said that it may have been one or multiple tornadoes that caused damage throughout the state.

"This line of thunderstorms produced damaging winds and likely one or two (unconfirmed) tornadoes. The NWS is conducting a storm damage survey for a couple of the harder-hit areas in Jefferson and Waukesha Counties today," the National Weather Service said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Gov. Tony Evers Declares State of Emergency
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency to activate the Wisconsin National Guard and aid from state agencies after the state saw severe weather Wednesday night. Evers, a member of Wisconsin's Electoral College, casts his vote for the presidential election at the state Capitol on December 14, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. Morry Gash/Pool/Getty Images

The National Weather Service sent two crews to survey damage in the Jefferson County community of Concord and in the Waukesha County Village of Wales on Thursday in southeastern Wisconsin, where the storm toppled farm buildings and left a path of destruction. Cows could be seen grazing among debris that landed in farm fields.

The weather service on Wednesday warned that the severe weather sweeping across upper Midwest states could include hurricane force winds and tornadoes and develop into a derecho — a rare type of storm that's often described as an inland hurricane.

"If not a derecho, it was close," VanCleve said. "You need wind damage more than 240 miles long and gusts of 58 mph for most of its length."

A determination on whether the storm could be classified as a derecho would be made later, VanCleve said.

Utility crews worked to restore service to thousands of power customers. Electricity was knocked out to about 90,000 customers across Wisconsin, according to the tracking website PowerOutage, US.

The tornado warnings started in Wausau and eventually were issued for Waukesha, Jefferson and Milwaukee counties around 1 a.m. Thursday.

The National Weather Service placed nearly the entire state of Wisconsin under a severe thunderstorm watch until 2 a.m. Thursday.