Retired Local 5 meteorologist legends talk about the Oakfield tornado 25 years later

Beyond The Forecast

(WFRV) – This Sunday will mark 25 years since the violent tornado struck Oakfield in Fond du Lac County on July 18, 1996. Now, you can join retired meteorologist legends Tom Mahoney and Dave Miller as they cover the storm here at Local 5 News.

Tom Mahoney was the Chief Meteorologist in 1996. He emphasized, “We have tornadoes in Wisconsin, but it would be rare to have these monstrous types, but that’s what this one was.”

Heading outside the evening that day Dave Miller said, “I look out the window and see this huge mammoth cloud and the storm off to the east, but there is this other storm off to the southwest.”

That storm would end up being the one that produced this memorable tornado fueled by heat a little bit of humidity. Before entering Oakfield, the tornado skipped a few times, but it entered the village shortly after 7 p.m. that evening at F4 strength. The clocks stopped with powerlines down and trees snapped.

“One of our spotter’s said Oakfield was hit, and I was like, where is Oakfield?” Mahoney reacted.

Oakfield tornado on radar, courtesy: National Weather Service

Along its path, 1 to 4 miles east of the village it reached F5 strength with estimated winds of 265 mph. This is the most recent F5 tornado in the state of Wisconsin.

Tom and Dave had their eyes on not just this supercell, but other rotating storms just off to the northeast of the Oakfield tornado. This caused a little bit of confusion as the warnings came out. 

Tom Mahoney said, “The Weather Service upgraded this one storm to a tornado and its like the one I’m looking at doesn’t look like that. Well, they were looking at one farther south in Fond du Lac county”

Eventually, the tornado turned off to the northeast and weakened by the time it got close to Eden. Thanks to the efforts of the National Weather Service and broadcast meteorologists, no one was killed in the ordeal, but 12 were injured.

Over 60 homes and businesses were destroyed, with an additional 130 homes and businesses were damaged. Add that up damage totaled around 40 million dollars.

“We had broadcast the warning, my colleagues in Milwaukee broadcast the warning, and then since it did happen when people were up and moving around, I think that really gives us the benefit of not losing any lives” – Tom Mahoney

“When I look at storm damage like that, and I remember from that 3 homes that were blown off their foundation, and I hadn’t seen that in a long time,” said Dave Miller.

Watch the full interview with Dave Miller below:

Watch the full interview with Tom Mahoney below:

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