Discover the Massive Snowstorm that Crushed Wisconsin in May… Yes, May!

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Published: May 13, 2023
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The state of Wisconsin is no stranger to harsh winters that contain plenty of snowfall. In most of central and northeastern Wisconsin, typical seasonal snowfall amounts range from 40 to 50 inches, while in Vilas County’s snowbelt, they range from 100 to 125 inches.

Easily the most historic snowfall to ever hit America’s Dairyland occurred in May of 1990. This storm rocked parts of the state and caused transportation issues that Wisconsin hasn’t seen since. Let’s take a look at this historic spring snowstorm.

Tip of yellow crocus popping up through the snow

Easily the most historic snowfall to ever hit America’s Dairyland occurred in May of 1990.

©Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay – License

The Snowstorm of 1990

The Milwaukee Sentinel reported that the weather for May 10, 1990, was expected to be extremely windy, with a 90% probability of rain, a high of 45 to 50, and low temperatures in the upper 30s. 

Even though it wasn’t quite a beautiful spring day, snow in early May there isn’t all that unique. Sadly, Thursday’s weather didn’t go according to plan. The region was devastated for days by the historic storm that hit the area on May 9th and 10th, 1990, dropping over two feet of thick, wet snow. 

In Milwaukee, there was significant flooding, and in Waukesha and Washington counties, there was devastating tree and plant damage from heavy snowfall. Throughout rush hour on Thursday morning, the storm got going. 

Due to fallen trees and electrical wires, traffic was diverted in all directions; according to the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, over 70 vehicles found themselves in ditches. Numerous power outages were observed elsewhere, particularly in Waukesha and Washington counties. 

In the words of Chuck Ziegler, a spokesperson for Wisconsin Electric Co., the Journal claimed on May 11, 1990, that 30,000 people were briefly without electricity.

snow blizzard on the highway with truck

Throughout rush hour on Thursday morning, the storm got going.

©Vitaliy Kaplin/Shutterstock.com

The Aftermath

The following day, over 1,000 individuals continued to wait for the electricity to turn back on. Additionally, the Sentinel reported that over 25,000 cable TV customers in the counties of Milwaukee and Waukesha lost service. 

More than 100 trees were said to have fallen throughout the storm in West Allis. The amount of devastation in the village of Pewaukee was comparable. One year later, on May 10, 1991, the Journal published an article detailing the destruction of 1,000 trees and the destruction of an additional 20,000 in the town of Waukesha.

The day following the storm, the temperature rose back to the mid-sixties, there was a lot of rainfall, and the snow quickly melted. But it was already too late.

According to a May 11, 1990 article in the Journal, the blizzard alone cost Washington County approximately $1.5 million, largely due to felled trees and electricity lines.

Heavy Snow in Virginia

According to a May 11, 1990 article in the Journal, the blizzard alone cost Washington County approximately $1.5 million.

©Alexei Korshunov/Shutterstock.com

Wisconsin’s Worst Blizzard Ever

In March 1881, Wisconsin had two blizzards in just one week, with drifts reaching 40 feet high. This storm is regarded as the most catastrophic to have hit Wisconsin. All types of travel were suspended, including rail lines and street traffic. 

Several residents throughout the state were forced to create tunnels to escape from their homes because they got stuck inside. The snowstorm occurred before governmental records were kept, although historical reports mention drifts that were as tall as buildings. 

The entire line of communication with the rest of the world has been severed, according to a Watertown newspaper. There was a lot of snow everywhere you looked! Some of it was thrown together by the wind into mounds that were up to 16 feet and 30 feet wide! A couple of these mounds were found to be over 100 feet long! 

An Average Wisconsin Winter

Wisconsin Welcome Sign

Wisconsin winter can be very unpredictable.

©Michele M Vogel/Shutterstock.com

Do you enjoy the bitterly cold, howling winds, and snowy winter months? If so, move to America’s Dairyland. Thrillist’s ranking of the states with the worst winters crowned Wisconsin in the fifth spot. 

The normal temperatures in Wisconsin are 24 degrees in December, 20 degrees in January, and 25 degrees in February, reported by the National Weather Service. Where is winter more severe? Michigan, Minnesota, and the Dakotas were the other four most unpleasant states, in terms of their winter. North Dakota takes the top spot, barely beating Minnesota. 

The way the state handles winter is much different that how it did back in the 1880s. Now, it’s rare for children to get called out of school due to a blizzard. Although we can romanticize a snow day, stuck at home building snowmen and making snow angels, it doesn’t happen too often. 

Windchill is also something to consider there. The meteorologist is not joking when he advises against going outside with bare skin. The piercing wind chill is far more worrisome than snow or the cold. 

Wisconsin winters may be quite erratic. In previous years, it took just a week to go from 80 degrees to snowing. Both 60 degrees in January and snow in May are possible. Essentially, don’t store away your snowblower until June, if ever.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©


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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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