British & European Tornado Extremes

Earliest Tornado And Waterspout
The earliest tornado known in Britain is also the equal severest on record. The violent (T8) tornado hit St. Mary le Bow in central London on October 23, 1091. Further details about this tornado are given under the "Most intense tornado" below.

Artist's impression of the Rosdalla tornado

Artist's impression of the Rosdalla tornado (Chris Chatfield).

The earliest tornado known in Europe occurred at Rosdalla, near Kilbeggan (Co. Westmeath) in Ireland on April 30, 1054. Some violent squalls which may be tornadic are known from before 1000, but evidence of conclusive (or even probable) tornadoes is lacking.

Artist's impression of the waterspouts in 1233

Artist's impression of the waterspouts in 1233 (Chris Chatfield).

The earliest-known British waterspouts (there were actually two) are also the earliest known in all of Europe; these occurred off southern England in June 1233.


Longest-Track Tornado
On May 21, 1950, a tornado which touched-down at Little London (Buckinghamshire) tracked 107.1 km to Coveney (Cambridgeshire). From there it continued as a funnel cloud, travelling another 52.6 km to Shipham (Norfolk) where it was last seen disappearing out across the North Sea (and hence the distance travelled as a funnel is the absolute minimum). Reports are sufficiently frequent from the many villages along this T5-6 tornado's track to indicate that it probably was caused by a single tornado, rather than a series of individual tornadoes.

On the continent, the tornado with the longest reported track also happens to be the earliest-known tornado in France. It occurred overnight during the September of 1669, tracking from La Rochelle (Charente-Maritime) to Paris - a length of 400 km. This is also likely to be a minimum distance, as it is quite possible that the tornado commenced as a waterspout over the Bay of Biscay. However, the antiquity and lack of data available to TORRO raises questions as to the continuity of the track; it is perfectly possible for several individual tornadoes to have been responsible for what may have been an discontinuous track.


Widest Tornado Path
Artist's impression of the Fernhill Heath tornado

Artist's impression of the Fernhill Heath tornado (Chris Chatfield).

A tornado on September 22, 1810 (T4) at Fernhill Heath (Hereford & Worcester) had a path width varying between 805 m and 1,609 m (converted from the reported 0.5 to 1 mi); however there is the possibility of the upward-rounding of the figures, given the reported values and the units used. The tornado of July 4, 1946 (T2) which hit Fairlight (East Sussex) had a width of 1,207 m (converted from reported 0.75 mi), while in this case only one figure was quoted.

The widest-known tornado in Europe occurred on June 3, 1902, at Javaugues (Haute- Loire), France. Although the path length was only 7 km, it was 3,000 m wide and the tornado had an intensity of T6-7. Remarkably, only one person was killed by the tornado, which occurred at 1400 GMT.

Several European countries have been affected by tornadoes with paths over 1,000 m wide; some nations have been hit a number of times by such massive tornadoes.


Most Intense Tornado
Artist's impression of the St. Mary le Bow tornado

Artist's impression of the St. Mary le Bow tornado (Chris Chatfield).

Two tornadoes in Britain are known to have reached T8; their antiquated nature (especially of the one) necessitated great caution in assigning intensities, so it is possible that they may have been even stronger. The first, also Britain's earliest known tornado, occurred on October 23, 1091. The church at St. Mary le Bow in central London was badly damaged, with four rafters - each 7.9 m long (converted from the reported 26 ft) - being driven into the ground (composed of heavy London Clay) with such force that only 1.2 m (converted from the reported 4 ft) protruded above the surface. Other churches in the area were demolished, as were over 600 (mostly wooden) houses. On December 14, 1810, another T8 tornado tracked from Old Portsmouth to Southsea Common (Hampshire) also causing immense damage - although no deaths, it is believed. Some houses were completely levelled and many others were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished; chimneys were blown down and the lead on a bank roof was "rolled up like a piece of canvas and blown from its situation".

Artist's impression of the Montville tornado

Artist's impression of the Montville tornado (Chris Chatfield).

Across the continent, a number of tornadoes are believed to have reached T10 - although it is always difficult to rate violent tornadoes, especially those at the upper end of the category. Violent (T8-T11) tornadoes have occurred in many countries, although only a few nations have experienced a T10. However, two tornadoes are rated T10-11 with the upper category implying windspeeds close to the 500 km h-1 (311 mi h-1) mark. On August 19, 1845, a violent T10-11 tornado devastated Montville (Seine-et-Maritime) in France. Sources give conflicting information as this lunch-time tornado travelled 15 or 30 km, was 100 or 300 m wide and killed 70 & injured 130 or (less probable) killed 200 people. At a similar time of day on July 24, 1930, the Treviso-Udine area (Veneto / Friuli-Venezia Giulia) of Italy was devastated by a 80 km long T10-11 tornado, which claimed 22 or 23 lives.


Most Deadly Tornado / Waterspout
Artist's impression of the Tay Bridge waterspouts

Artist's impression of the Tay Bridge waterspouts (Chris Chatfield).

On December 28, 1879, all 74 lives were lost when a passenger train plunged from the Tay Bridge (Tayside) into the Tay Estuary, when the middle section of the bridge collapsed. Although the bridge was poorly constructed and had already been weakened in earlier gales (including the pre-existing winds at the time of the tragedy), the ultimate failure is believed to have been caused by two or three waterspouts which were sighted close to the bridge immediately before the accident.

Artist's impression of the Valetta waterspout - tornado

Artist's impression of the Valetta waterspout - tornado (Chris Chatfield).

Great loss of life has been caused by tornadoes and waterspouts across Europe. On September 23, 1551 (or 1556, date not reported - sources conflict), the Grand Harbour at Valetta, Malta, was hit by a waterspout which then moved to land and caused T7 damage. A shipping armada, which had assembled there and was about to go into battle, was destroyed by the waterspout killing at least 600 people. It is not known how many recovered from their injuries.

Artist's impression of the Sicily tornadoes

Artist's impression of the Sicily tornadoes (Chris Chatfield).

It was reported that in December 1851 two tornadoes crossed the western tip of Sicily, Italy, killing over 500 people, but details on this event are lacked by TORRO. On June 9, 1984, over 400 were killed and 213 injured when a T10 tornado hit Belyanitsky, Ivanovo and Balino in western Russia.


Largest Tornado Outbreak
The largest tornado outbreak in Britain is also the largest tornado outbreak known anywhere in Europe. On November 23, 1981, 105 tornadoes were spawned by a cold front in the space of 5.25 hours. Excepting Derbyshire, every county in a triangular area from Gwynedd to Humberside to Essex was hit by at least one tornado, while Norfolk was hit by at least 13. Very fortunately most tornadoes were short-lived and also weak (the strongest was around T5 on the TORRO Tornado Scale) and no deaths occurred.