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A twister tore through La Crosse, 10 years ago Saturday

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People in La Crosse used to say that the local bluffs and valleys protected the city from tornadoes.

That was before May 22 of 2011, when an EF-2 twister swept through the south side of La Crosse, causing extensive property damage and downing many trees.

On that Sunday, Ken Schelper’s apartment building near the Green Island ice arena was hit hard by a tornado that crossed the Mississippi to reach the south side of La Crosse.

“My roof in the bedroom caved in from the weight of the water that had come into the building,” Schelper said on that day. The apartment building at 7th and Cook lost much of its roof to the high winds.

It was La Crosse’s first tornado in over 40 years. On the same day, a stronger tornado killed more than 150 people in Joplin, Missouri.

The twister in La Crosse also caused damage to the ice arena, a Pepsi bottling plant and the K-Mart on Losey.

No one was hurt by the tornado as it went from La Crosse and points east, reaching up to 120 miles an hour.

Dave Schmidt of the National Weather Service in La Crosse remembers that Sunday, 10 years ago.

He didn’t plan to go into the office that day, but was mowing grass for his mother in Holmen when he learned of the storm sweeping through the area.

Schmidt said technology over the past decade has made it easier, in some ways, to detect when a bad storm could be coming. He thinks area residents probably pay more attention to weather warnings now, than they did before that Sunday.

About that notion of tornadoes skipping La Crosse?

“Terrain can cause certain circulations that may enhance tornado activity like that,” Schmidt said, “but we definitely disproved that folklore, that’s for sure.”

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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1 Comment

  1. Mary Grabinski Grabski

    May 21, 2021 at 11:00 am

    I remember that myth, about being protected by the bluffs. It worked all the while I was a kid during the 40’a and 50’s. Then, I saw the pictures of Redfield and Green Bay Steets, after the tornado hit

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