Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wisconsin is woefully unprepared for increase in severe weather

Climate change leaves Wisconsin’s poor, homeless at increased risk
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Severe weather is no rare occurrence in the Midwest.

From spring to winter, states like Wisconsin are at risk for a decent number of weather disasters. In the spring and summer, flooding, heat waves, fire warnings and tornadoes pose the biggest threats. States surrounding Wisconsin such as Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois are some of the most tornado-prone of the nation — coming in at ninth, eighth and sixth, respectively. The Badger state still holds up against its Midwestern competitors, with the National Weather Service reporting 1537 documented tornadoes since 1980 and an average annual rate of 23 tornadoes per year.

In the fall and winter, Wisconsin is prone to blizzard conditions and freezing temperatures that bring dangers of their own. On average, Wisconsin gets around 3-5 severe winter storms per season and a significant ice storm every 4-5 years. The effects of these storms have short and long-term consequences for affected residents — from roof damage and bus delays to increases in house fungi and floods come the spring that can devastate crop and animal populations, which are vital sources of income for a significant portion of Wisconsin’s population.


Increasingly, Wisconsinites must also be prepared to deal with random spikes in temperatures that can result in flash flooding when too much snow melts at once.

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The two most common weather threats that Wisconsin faces are damaging winds and hail, and Dane County is consistently one of the top counties prone to experiencing severe weather threats of any kind. As such, the city of Madison and its residents have often felt the effects of Wisconsin’s harsh weather.

As climate change continues to affect weather patterns across the world, Wisconsin will start to see increased natural disasters as well. Tornadoes occur when the air is warm, moist and unstable — all of which are increasingly likely with the rising temperatures associated with climate change. Even if this warmer weather led to drier rather than more moist conditions, the state would instead be susceptible to greater risks for wildfires.

As severe weather becomes more and more common, it is important to look at who is going to be affected the most and how Wisconsin can better protect them.

Madison is the second largest city in Wisconsin, with a population of around 270,000. A decent portion of the city’s residents experience housing insecurity. On a single night in 2022, the Homeless Service Consortium of Dane County counted 700 people experiencing homelessness. Due to the ongoing housing crisis in Wisconsin’s capital city, the number of homeless or housing-insecure residents can only be expected to increase.

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For residents without a safe and secure place to live, severe weather becomes a life-or-death situation. Time estimated that 21 people died during the 2019 polar vortex, most of whom were low-income, homeless or working outside.

To combat this crisis, local governments across Wisconsin must begin to invest in larger and more secure public shelters for the homeless or others without adequate shelter to use during particularly severe weather conditions. Because of Madison’s size and particularly large homeless population, these efforts are decidedly important here.

This said, rural areas cannot be left out of this initiative. Rural residents, who are more reliant on land-dependent sources of income such as agriculture and livestock, can be especially vulnerable to severe weather conditions. It is imperative that Wisconsin’s rural population be protected from the effects of severe weather as well.

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Homeowners and renters are also at risk when severe weather strikes.

Homes and apartments can take devastating damage from severe weather, with consequences ranging from roof damage during hail storms or flooding from intense rainfall to a complete loss of shelter from tornadoes or fires. While most home or renters insurance will help cover the costs of repair, these losses can still be personally and financially traumatic. It is essential that Wisconsin invests in new research and construction initiatives to better prepare its buildings for these increasingly likely weather events.

Wisconsin is feeling the effects of a changing climate. With the weather becoming worse and more unpredictable every year, cities like Madison are going to continue seeing devastating impacts on their infrastructure and their residents. The homeless and poor are at particular risk of feeling these devastating effects. The state must take action to bring shelter to its residents, rather than the other way around.

Fiona Hatch ([email protected]) is a senior studying political science and international studies.

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