A beautiful spring evening was interrupted Tuesday night as a strange storm barrelled through the city with strong wind gusts that knocked down trees, power lines and blew away anything not tied down in people's yards.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Rudy Schaar said wind gusts were reported across the area from 39 mph at the National Weather Service Station in Sullivan, all the way up to 68 mph gust at 8:40 p.m. in Oconomowoc. The fast moving storm was high on winds but low on precipitation. Schaar said rainfall totals were scant, with most areas only reporting a trace.
According to a release from the National Weather Service, rain falling into dry air near the ground evaporated, causing the low rainfall totals. However, the rain evaporating generated the strong winds by creating a heat burst event.
"In a heat burst, all of the water in the sinking air is evaporated before it reaches the ground, and the air begins to warm before it hits the ground. The air rushes to the ground as a sudden burst of hot, gusty wind," the National Weather Service said in the release.
The powerful winds knocked out power to at least 4,800 residents in the city. WE Energies spokeswoman Cathy Schulze said around 100 Watertown residents were still waiting for their power to be restored at 9:30 this morning.
Schulze said 21,000 residents in Southeastern Wisconsin lost power during the storm. About 2,000 were still waiting for their power to be restored at press time this morning, including around 200 customers in Dodge and Jefferson counties.
Assistant Street Department Superintendent Bill Fincutter said power was knocked out and a large portion of the central corridor of the city, including along Main Street from Eighth Street to the railroad tracks on West Main Street.
"We had a lot of downtown lights and street lights out. All of the Main Street lights were back up by 11:30 p.m.," Fincutter said.
The street department had to shut down five roadways because of downed trees, Fincutter said. The street department either moved the trees off the city streets or blocked the roads until the parks department could respond to cut up and remove the trees.
"Some bigger trees came down, it definitely came as a surprise to us, it was not forecasted," Fincutter said.
Jeff Rammelt, manager at Oak Hill Cemetery in Watertown, said the cemetery had several big trees down along with other incidental damage. He said he will likely have to close the cemetery overnight because some of the trees are blocking the roads.
Watertown Fire Chief Greg Michalek said the department was busy Tuesday night responding to multiple reports of downed wires across the city. Firefighters responded to a property on River Drive where wires had fallen on a home after a tree was knocked down and power lines were reported on the sidewalks near Clark and Utah streets, Michalek said. The department barricaded the areas until WE Energies arrived on scene to handle the wires.
Michalek urged residents to call the fire department if they notice any downed wires on their properties or in a roadway because it is easier for the department to respond right after a storm.
The Dodge County Sheriff's Department received multiple calls from the towns of Portland and Ashippun of utility poles that were either knocked down or leaning heavily.
The National Weather Service also reported a large barn was knocked down in Waterloo at 8:20 p.m. Tuesday.