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29 October 2014

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January 2004
Hold on! Twisters in Nottinghamshire
tornado (in Miami)
Tornado (in Miami)
Nottinghamshire is one of the UK's tornado hotspots. In fact, on August 2nd 1984 Gotham, Notts was struck by a twister!

Sarah-Leigh Barnett investigates...
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You can hear Sarah-Leigh, Kwesa and Sara give their daily weather forecasts on BBC Radio Nottingham (95.5 and 103.8 FM and 1584 MW) every weekday.

You can watch Sarah-Leigh, Kwesa and Sara give their daily weather forecasts on East Midlands Today at 1.30pm and 6.30pm on BBC1 every weekday.
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Earlier this month an impressive waterspout formed over the Bristol Channel - sparking a debate about the chances of a twister reaching further inland - could a tornado reach our landlocked county?

In truth, you're a lot more likely to get floored by a game of Twister than the natural phenomenon.

However, time to take note - Nottinghamshire is one of the UK's tornado hotspots. In fact, on August 2nd 1984 Gotham, Notts was struck by a tornado!


Gotham Tornado - 2nd August 1984
Yep, that's right! Gotham (pronounced 'Goatam', as in "Home of Goats"), Nottinghamshire's Gotham and not Batman's Gotham City, had their very own tornado back in 1984. As rain storms lashed the county, the tornado struck at approximately 5.50pm uprooting trees, blowing garden sheds onto power cables, destroying greenhouses and severely damaging houses, roofs and chimneys. Amazingly, nobody was injured. Residents who experienced the tornado still remember its impact vividly.

Sybil Dabell was on her way home from Nottingham as the tornado veered across the road in front of the bus she was traveling on: "The bus stopped. The bus driver rested his elbows on the steering wheel and said, 'Now what on earth do we do about that?'. Speeding straight towards us right down the middle of the road was a tornado. It was narrow and very dark at the base and whirling around at an enormous speed. The noise was like that of an old steam train. Luckily for us the tornado veered off across the fields before it reached us. I later heard that one old lady saw her false teeth sucked out of the open window, never to be found again!"

Arthur Howick, Gotham Parish Councillor, was one of the main people who coordinated the repair and tidy up in the aftermath of the tornado. He recalls: "The tornado was about 200ft high, 100ft wide at the top and rotating at about 150ft above ground level was a lot of debris. It only lasted about 5 - 10 minutes and seemed to be traveling at about walking speed. You could see bits of debris falling out as the tornado moved. A wood and asbestos garage was completely lifted off the ground and over houses on the Nottingham Road and dumped in the local allotments. A cross-cut saw was found lodged in somebody's roof and a 10ft galvanised sheet of metal was left wrapped around a tree. An elderly resident, Mary Coppin, was lucky to escape injury when a huge amount of debris landed on her bed. There was not one square yard without some debris."

Alec and Pat Witham, who still live in the house that received the worst damage, were settling down to watch the 1984 Olympic Games when the tornado struck. Pat recalls that the sky became increasingly dark and that the birds had stopped singing. As she looked out of the window she gasped as she saw their shed roof flying into the back fields. As they gazed out of the window, they saw paper whirling around in the sky and then a tremendous noise made them rush upstairs. The entire apex of their house had disappeared and they could see through to the sky: "Lumps of wood and dustbin lids were whirling around, and one piece of wood passed our window and went straight through the back window of a neighbour's car. Our next door neighbour's shed was lifted off the ground and then dumped back down as though it had just arrived flat packed ready for building! And somebody's chickens were swept up never to be seen again."

The residents of Gotham were left feeling stunned but relieved that nobody was hurt. The clear up started straight away with able bodied people helping to secure loose tiles and broken windows, and clear away debris from the gardens and roads. They worked until 10.00pm that night. Everyone remembers a great sense of community in the following days and weeks, and recall a number of curious people coming to take a look at the tornado damage. Photographs, newspaper articles and anecdotal accounts of that evening have been carefully collected by Barry Dabell, Chairperson of the Local History Society, so that future generations will be able to research the day that a tornado struck Gotham.

So will it happen again? The chance of another tornado hitting Gotham or anywhere in Nottinghamshire is hard to predict. Despite the knowledge of how and why tornadoes form it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when and where they will hit. However, with the East Midlands being one of the main areas for tornado reports there is a distinct possibility that we will experience a tornado again.


Tornado damage
in Gotham, 1984
tornado damage in Gotham
tornado damage in Gotham
tornado damage in Gotham
tornado damage in Gotham
tornado damage in Gotham


Tornadoes (and their water based cousins, waterspouts) are not normally associated with the British Isles, or indeed Nottinghamshire. However, over the last 30 years an average of 33 tornadoes per year have been reported in the UK. Of course, only the tornadoes that have caused structural damage or have been visible during daylight hours are reported. In reality it is likely that many tornadoes are being missed. In fact, when land areas are taken into account in order to calculate frequency of tornadoes, the UK has the highest frequency of reported tornadoes per unit area in the world! This fact was established in 1973 by world renowned meteorologist, Dr T Fujita, whose name is given to the scale that measures tornado size and strength.

What is a tornado?
The word "tornado" comes from the Latin tonare, meaning "to thunder." The Spanish developed the word into tornear, to turn or twist. A tornado is a powerful column of winds spiralling around a centre of low atmospheric pressure. It looks like a large black funnel hanging down from a storm cloud. The narrow end will move over the earth, whipping back and forth like a tail. The winds inside a tornado spiral upward and inward with a lot of speed and power. It creates an internal vacuum that then sucks up anything it passes over. When the funnel touches a structure, the fierce winds have the ability to tear it apart.

So where do they occur in the UK?
Most tornado reports are from the East Midlands, West Midlands, Central-Southern England, South-East England and East Anglia. They have also been reported in South-West England, North-West England, North-East England and Wales. Tornadoes are rare in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Tornado conditions are caused when different temperatures and humidity meet to form thunderclouds. In the UK this usually means the meeting of warm moist air from the south west meeting the colder drier air from the north. The warm winds try to rise, but the cold northern air blocks them. This clash causes the warm, trapped air to rotate horizontally between the two air masses. At the same time, the sun heats the earth below, warming more air that continues to try and rise. Finally, the rising warm wind becomes strong enough to force itself up through the colder air layer.


Q: What did one tornado say to the other?
A: Shall we twist again like we did last summer!


Remember: A tornado is not the same as a hurricane!

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