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
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.
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
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