Wisconsin Severe Thunderstorm and Tornadoes Toolkit

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.

Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.

Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

In April of each year, Wisconsin participates in Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week. The week is meant to encourage people to develop or review their severe weather and tornado plans, so they are fresh in their minds before the risk of severe storms increases. The week also includes a statewide tornado drill, which provides two opportunities for people to practice their tornado safety plan at school, work, and home.

The next statewide tornado drill will take place on April 20, 2023. During the drill times of 1:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. we encourage everyone to practice their tornado safety plans by going to their designated tornado shelter. Please note that the Wisconsin drill no longer includes a test of the Emergency Alert System, which means there will be no alerts triggered on weather radios and broadcast TV/radio stations. Some communities may still choose to test their outdoor warnings sirens during the designated drill times. In the event severe weather is in the forecast for April 20, the test may be postponed to the following day. Any change in the date would be announced on the ReadyWisconsin website.

Know the terms

Tornado Watch 

Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio , commercial radio, or television for information. Watch for alerts on your cell phone and check social media for additional information from trusted sources.

Tornado Warning 

A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.

Tornado Facts

  • Wisconsin averages 23 tornadoes a year.
  • The peak tornado season in Wisconsin is April to August, but tornadoes can occur any time of year.
  • Tornadoes can occur any time during the day or night, but are most frequent between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.
  • About 80% of tornadoes that hit Wisconsin are relatively weak, with winds under 100 mph. Only 1% are violent with winds over 200 mph.
  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 MPH, but may vary from stationary to 70 MPH.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.

What to do Before a Tornado
Be alert to changing weather conditions.

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or television newscasts for the latest information.
  • Look for approaching storms
  • Look for the following danger signs:
    • Dark, often greenish sky
    • Large hail
    • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
    • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.

What to Do During a Tornado

If you are in: Then:
A structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building) Go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.
A vehicle, trailer, or mobile home Get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter.
The outside with no shelter Lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding.


Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.

Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.

Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

Additional Resources

School Tornado Safety Information (2022)

Wisconsin Severe Thunderstorm and Tornadoes Toolkit

2022 Governor Proclamation

TSAW 2022 Press Release