Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

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 (www.jamessmart.com.au)
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.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.