1981 West Bend tornado

In the early morning hours of April 4, 1981, an unusual and deadly anticyclonic F4 tornado struck West Bend, Wisconsin. It killed three people, and injured another 53. The tornado was largely unexpected and the storm that produced it did not display features of a typical severe storm. Because of this, the National Weather Service issued only a Severe Thunderstorm Warning prior to the tornado, causing local law enforcement to not sound the tornado sirens in time for residents to take shelter.

April 4, 1981, West Bend tornado
F4 tornado
FormedApril 4, 1981
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Duration of
tornado outbreak2
5 minutes
Fatalities3 fatalities, 53 injuries
Damage$25.0 million (1981 USD)
Areas affectedWest Bend, Wisconsin
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado

Meteorological synopsisEdit

During the early morning on April 4, 1981, meteorological conditions in Wisconsin were conducive for severe weather. At around 12:00am CST (0600 UTC) a thunderstorm developed and rapidly began to grow over south central Wisconsin. The growing storm caused a downburst near the village of Clyman and then continued on towards West Bend. The storm however did not appear to be severe, thunderstorm tops were measured to only be 26,000 feet (7,900 m) and a weak bow echo was observed by a radar in Neenah. Only a few minutes after midnight (local time), while the storm was weakening the tornado touched down. The tornado was extremely narrow, but it still managed to produce F3 and F4 damage only a few seconds after touching down. It cut a swath of destruction through the city, killing several and injuring many more. Post storm analysis determined that not only was the tornado an extremely rare occurrence given the storm's strength, but also that it was an anticyclonic tornado. The F4 tornado is the only violent and the strongest anticyclonic tornado ever recorded.[1]


The West Bend tornado killed three people and injured another 53.[2][3][4] It was the most intense tornado to strike Wisconsin in 1981, and caused $25.0 million in damages.[3] Following the tornado the American Red Cross determined that around 139 structures were damaged or destroyed by the storm. With many residents left homeless and the threat of more storms looming, Governor Lee S. Dreyfus declared a state of emergency freeing up the area for aid.[4] The campus of the Moraine Park Technical Institute was severely damaged by the tornado and classes were disrupted.[5]


It was determined that the West Bend police did not activate the city's siren system before or during the tornado. The National Weather Service in Milwaukee issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the area that only mentioned a confirmed tornado touchdown. However, because no Tornado Warning was issued for the storm, local police failed to activate the siren. Nearby Dodge County did activate their siren system after damage reports.[6] The tornado showed the problems with operational meteorology or "nowcasting". The storm did not display the typical features of a severe storm and the tornado that was produced formed while the storm was weakening, an almost unheard of event.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Wakimoto, Roger (April 23, 1982). "The West Bend, Wisconsin Storm of 4 April 1981: A Problem in Operational Meteorology". Roger Wakimoto (Author), Theodore Fujita (Co-collaborator), Gregory S. Forbes (Co-collaborator). The University of Chicago. 22: 181–189. doi:10.1175/1520-0450(1983)022<0181:TWBWSO>2.0.CO;2.
  2. ^ Hayes, Paul (April 5, 1981). "Sudden shift in weather set the stage". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Event Record Details". National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Retrieved 28 February 2010.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ a b Elving, Ron (April 5, 1981). "West Bend Surveys its damage". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
  5. ^ Duffy, Shatzi (April 9, 1981). "Tornado damage causes institute classes to scatter". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
  6. ^ Romell, Rick (April 8, 1981). "Broadcast was too 'vague' for tornado siren, police say". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2010.

External linksEdit