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‘Cold Air Funnels’ Reported Around Madison

June 14, 1989

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Unusual cold-air funnel clouds that looked like tornadoes touched down around Madison on Wednesday, tossing cars, damaging buildings and snapping utility lines. No injuries were reported.

″They’re not as strong as tornadoes. They usually don’t touch down, but there were two reports of touchdowns from this storm,″ said Margaret Mooney of the National Weather Service in Madison.

Ordinary funnel clouds and tornadoes generally develop during intense thunderstorms that form along and some distance ahead of a cold front during warm, humid weather.

But there were no intense thunderstorms in the area Wednesday and the weather was relatively cool, so there was less energy to drive the funnel clouds than would be available to a tornado, she said.

The distinction was lost on most people who encountered the storm.

″We could see it pick up cars and toss them around like a toy,″ said theater manager Richard Lepsch.

Employees at a car dealership said the windows in their showroom blew out and dozens of cars were tossed into one another in the lot.

″It sounded like we were in a vacuum cleaner,″ said Russell Foskett, an employee at the lot.

″I went over to close the door,″ Foskett said. ″I thought it was hailing. It was flying glass. The flag pole was at a 45-degree angle.″

Lisa Hoger, a switchboard operator at the auto dealership, said the storm was ″kind of scary. It just happened all of a sudden, this big gust of wind.″

Scott Lawver, a salesman, said he looked out a window and, ″all I saw was a lot of flying junk - glass and Styrofoam going in a circle over the building.″

Lawver estimated 50 to 60 cars were damaged by the funnel cloud, and some of their windows were popped out.

A police dispatcher in Sun Prairie said that city was surrounded by funnel clouds shortly before noon.

The storm toppled Alice and Leo Bakke’s barn and tobacco shed at Sun Prairie, blocking a county road.

″All the windows were blown out″ in the house, Mrs. Bakke said, ″and all my knick-knacks were broken.″

Most of the funnel clouds did not touch down.

John Hermanson was driving on Interstate 90 when he saw a ″big cloud with a little funnel coming out of it. It looked like a snake dangling out of it.″

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