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Looking back on the July 15, 1980 storm 40 years later

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It's been 40 years since the storm that caused $240 million in damage, leaving three Wisconsinites dead and 27 injured.

It was one of the worst storms in Wisconsin history, and even after 40 years, you can still see lasting impacts from the storm. Some of them may go unnoticed unless you know where to look.

"The house that I lived in, the rafters are way higher than the rest of them because Menards ran out of rafters trying to put homes back up, so our roof is a little higher," Jennifer Shaw said.

Jennifer was just eight years old when the storm ripped apart her family's home near Mill Run on the northwest side of Eau Claire. She had just returned home from Carson Park with her family when the storm hit.

"It was so loud, that you obviously couldn't hear anything at all," Shaw said. "My dad was trying to talk to my mom and I screamed. I couldn't hear anything."

The July 15, 1980 derecho, known by many as simply 'The Storm' hit Eau Claire just before 9:30 p.m. that evening, and 112 mph wind gusts rocked the Eau Claire airport roughly 15 minutes later. The wind was so strong that the anemometer, which measures the wind speed, was destroyed after the 112 mph gust hit.

"When you looked around at the ground, there was no grass. You could see no grass. It was just damage," Shaw said. "Being so young, it was just bizarre. It didn't even look like a neighborhood. If I were to go to one of my friends' house[s], it was actually hard to see landmarks because the landmarks were gone."

For many, power was out for days.

"I think it affected really everybody in Eau Claire. Either you had damage or somebody else had damage," Shaw said.

The Chippewa Valley Museum, along with author Luc Anthony are hosting a virtual event Wednesday at noon looking back on the storm.

Anthony is the author of Spearhead Echo: The Storm Of 1980, which is is a collection of stories about the storm. If you would like to learn more or buy a copy, you can send him a message on his Facebook page.

Jess Langlois

Jess Langlois is the weekend meteorologist and weekday multi-media journalist for News 18. She joined us in July of 2019.

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