The night a tornado wrapped around our house

The night a tornado wrapped around our house

It was the ash twigs, speared into the lawn like crooked arrows, which made me think again about the nature of the storm the previous evening. It was unlike any weather event I’ve experienced in Dorset.

It happened after dark, a little before 8.30pm. Rain was hurling down outside, the wind singing over the fields. Then the gale transformed itself, and a screaming roar wrapped itself around the house. It was as if we were inside the drum of a gigantic washing machine, with water sloshing in all directions, spindle squealing with the weight.

The kitchen window came smashing in, high notes of splintering glass backed by the deeper crash of breaking roof tiles. Flying objects battered and thumped the walls so hard that the house shook and the timbers groaned. The air outside was filled with a whirling snow of earth, moss, lichen, bark and ripped plastic. It lasted two or three minutes – and then it stopped.

tornado window

Agitated and confused, we began to clear up, blocking the broken window with cardboard and parcel tape. By midnight the rain had ceased and we went to check the damage, splashing through puddles, watched by an angry, black-clouded moon.

A big ash tree was down, blocking the road, a tall fir had been uprooted, and strong branches had been torn off the oaks and hornbeams. Bramble briars, forcibly blown out of the tangled hedge, hung in bouffant masses like displaced comb-overs. The phone line had snapped and the loose end was whipped tightly around a treetop.

Ash spears driven into the ground

Collecting debris in sunshine the next morning, I found the ash shafts, some as long as my forearm, driven into the ground, all pointing the same way. A few metres to the right were some more. But these were aligned in the opposite direction.

Between 30 and 50 small tornadoes hit Britain every year, mostly in the Midlands. Generally short-lived, they usually measure no more than 1 on the Fujita scale, with wind speeds of up to 112mph. It seems that we endured a typical example.

First published 6 February 2021 in the Guardian Country Diary.

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