Twist and shout: European tornadoes

A tornado hits Simla, Colorado. The US sees nearly a dozen times as many tornadoes each year than Europe A tornado hits Simla, Colorado. The US sees nearly a dozen times as many tornadoes each year than Europe James Smart (
14 Feb
A lack of awareness is preventing adequate monitoring of destructive tornado events in Europe

With dramatic-sounding names such as ‘Tornado Alley’, it would be easy to believe tornadoes are mainly a North American phenomenon. Although the average number of tornadoes reported annually between 1950 and 2015 was 11 times greater in America than in Europe, there were still 5,478 tornadoes reported across 42 European countries during that time period. According to data from the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD), these resulted either directly or indirectly in 316 fatalities, 4,462 injuries, and estimated damages in excess of €1billion.

Despite this, and possibly due to a reduced threat perception, European countries have far less developed monitoring and early warning infrastructures in place than those in the US. Dr Bogdan Antonescu, from the Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Manchester, recently led a study into the low awareness of tornadoes in Europe, and observes that the majority of Europe’s recent reports follow the chain of urbanisation that stretches from Manchester to Milan via London, Brussels and Frankfurt. ‘With a high population density there is an increased probability that someone will observe and report the tornado,’ he points out. ‘It is possible that such hotspots could also be identified over eastern Europe.’ For example, in Romania and the Czech Republic during the 1970s and 1980s, tornadoes were not officially recognised. Those that occurred during this period were reported simply as ‘high-wind events’.

For a country with a small area, the tornado impact is perceived as low. Maintaining a database for such a country would not be justified

Antonescu argues that European countries would significantly benefit from collaborating on a collective effort to help meteorologists collect data on European tornadoes: ‘For a country with a small area, the tornado impact is perceived as low, especially when compared with their impact in the US,’ he explains. ‘Maintaining a database for such a country would not be justified.’ Instead, he believes citizen science projects – such as the ESWD – as well as collaborations between different European meteorological services, are the best ways to develop a better understanding of tornadoes in Europe.

This was published in the February 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

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