During nearly 50 years in the logging business, Max Ericson has seen trees – lots of them – blown down by the wind. What took place this summer in parts of Wisconsin’s North Woods, though, shocked him.
“I’ve never seen our forests so devastated as they are now,” said Ericson, owner of Ericson Logging in Minong. “It’s going to impact the timber industry for a least a couple generations.”
Across a swath of northwestern Wisconsin, an estimated 2 million cords of wood – $160 million worth by one estimate – are on the ground, blown down during a severe thunderstorm in July.
“We’ve had blow-downs before, just nothing this size,” said Henry Schienebeck, a third-generation logger and executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association in Rhinelander.
The amount of wood on the ground is about what the state’s loggers usually cut in a year, Schienebeck said.
“If a tornado hits, a tornado is a half-mile to a mile wide and two to three miles long,” Ericson said. “Then it lifts and it’s done.
“This went on for miles.”
The huge number of trees in northern Wisconsin makes the region vulnerable to severe thunderstorm winds, and timber blow-downs occur often in the area.
“But not to this degree,” said Rick Hluchan, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service forecast office in Duluth, Minn., which provides forecast coverage for northwestern Wisconsin. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had winds this bad.”
Weather Service meteorologists used a combination of radar images and damage surveys done from the air and on the ground to determine that wind gusts in the storm were greater than 100 mph.