Mary Petersen had never seen anything like Wednesday night’s hailstorm.
“I actually had to take something to calm myself,” she said. “It was absolutely horrible. I’ve never been through anything like that.”
A fierce storm tore through Rock County at about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday, hurling pieces of hail the size of pingpong balls in some areas, according to residents who witnessed the downpour first-hand.
Petersen compared the sound of the storm outside her home at 1941 S. Grant Ave. to drive-by shootings that wouldn’t stop.
“It actually sounded like a tornado,” she said.
The severe weather was a combination of straight-line winds and large hail, two anomalies that rarely happen at the same time, said Rock County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Shena Kohler. According to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, winds reached 58 mph, she said.
Rock County Communications Center Director Kathy Sukus said the emergency sirens did not sound for the storm. They only go off for tornado warnings or severe weather, such as roofs being blown off, she said.
The damage from the storm across Rock County was worst in Janesville, especially on the city’s the south side, Kohler said.
After the storm, Petersen’s grandson had to force open the front door, which was partially blocked by hail that covered the porch, Petersen said.
“It looked like snow,” she said.
Petersen found damaged siding and window screens. Several tree branches in the backyard fell, she said.
Doug and Jana Coulter and their kids spent Thursday repairing their home at 2515 S. Oakhill Ave. Hail had shredded much of the siding from the west side of their home.
“It’s kinda comical,” Jana said. “It’s like something out of cartoon, actually.”
The family worked to replant a small tree the storm had uprooted. Earlier, the family had found about 30 dead birds on their property, Jana said.
During the storm, the family heard hail, “and then it got really, really, really loud,” Doug said.
“It sounded like a freight train,” Jana said.
From their yard, it was easy to see several homes in the adjacent subdivision had been hit just as hard.
“Pretty much every house is damaged out there,” Kohler said. “It was like someone taking a hammer and just wailing on things.”
On South River Road, two next-door neighbors attended to two trees that had been ripped out of the earth.
Mary Conway got emotional as she picked stones from the roots of a mighty tree that had fallen in her backyard. She plans to use the stones for the rock garden in her front yard, she said.
The tree had been in the yard for the 40 years she has lived at the home. Her kids used to swing from it, Conway said.
“Look at the size of that trunk,” she said. “It’s been here a long time.”
Next door, Tim Treptow cut the branches off a smaller tree that had fallen onto his friend’s truck, denting the hood.
Hail dented vehicles and cracked mirrors and windows at a house on Pershing Place. The storm destroyed siding and blooming flowers.
On South Osborne Avenue, Lois Allen looked at a toppled tree that sprawled across her entire yard. The tree had snapped and fallen over her driveway and shattered in her yard, she said.
Sharon Krueger lives on Lasalle Street on the city’s south side. Dime-sized hail punch holes through the siding on the south side of her house, she said.
The lifelong Janesville native said she had never seen anything like the storm.
“It was different. It was quite surprising,” she said.
American Family Insurance has started setting up mobile claim sites in Janesville and Rockford, Illinois, for those affected by the storm. So far, about 900 customers have reported damage or made claims, media relations consultant Linda Wagener wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Janesville is forecast to receive more rain over the weekend. Showers could begin Saturday night and continue into Sunday morning.
Kohler asked residents with stories and photos of damage from the storm email them to her at email@example.com. The information helps the sheriff’s office and the state monitor weather patterns, she said.