Point in History: May 1920
By Kris Leonhardt
On a hot, steamy day in May 1920, Stevens Point was bustling with activity. Due to the unseasonable humid weather, residents were eager to spend the day outdoors.
As morning made its way to afternoon, the air became heavy with humidity as people struggled to find the means to cool themselves on the hot, steamy day.
By mid-afternoon a light breeze provided a welcome relief; however, as the trees began to bend and sway in unnatural movements, Point citizens soon realized something more was developing in the central Wisconsin sky.
As thunderclouds began swelling in the southwest, the sky grew darker and more ominous. The heavy winds began to kick up the sandy earth, projecting a dangerous grit into the area that would tear through the fresh spring crops and stop cars in their tracks.
As the sky grew more foreboding, a driving rain began, sending families to the confines of their homes.
Meanwhile near Pittsville, a rotation began to develop in the atmosphere, producing a cyclone that would propel northeast toward the City of Stevens Point.
With no method for warning residents of impending danger, Stevens Point citizens sought shelter from the elements but remained unaware of the serious destruction heading in its direction.
The tornado tore its way through Wood County before entering Portage County, taking with it portions of people’s homes, barns, silos and machine sheds.
The storm uprooted trees, destroyed livestock and disrupted telephone and electrical service. At one residence, the destructive winds lifted an automobile and deposited it into a swamp.
As the early evening sky grew eerie near Stevens Point, residents were left wondering what was to come.
By 7:40 p.m., the storm had made its way into Waupaca County, reaching the city of Amherst. By some inexplicable reason, the tornado had made its way from Pittsville to Amherst, dodging the more populated cities of Plover and Stevens Point on its trek through the area.
While the cyclone left a path of destruction in its wake, all human lives were spared its wrath.
When news reached Stevens Point, detailing the path of destruction, residents were left disheveled at the danger they had nearly avoided.
Experimental tornado warning systems weren’t developed in the United States until 1943. In fact, the word tornado was banned in weather forecasts until 1950. Three years later, an official system was developed for forecasting local areas at risk.
Kris Leonhardt may be contacted by mail: P.O. Box 51, Marshfield, Wisconsin, 54449 or email: [email protected].