There’s no arguing that tornadoes are extremely destructive and incredibly dangerous, and for those of you who have experienced one or its after-effects, I’m sure that you can confirm that they are a terrifying occurrence that you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
When you do hear about tornadoes, especially on the news, you may have noticed the pattern of where they occur – more predominantly in the United States of America.
So you may be wondering, does Europe experience tornadoes too? And you may be surprised to learn that they can.
They don’t happen quite as often as they do in the USA and that is mainly due to the fact that the Great Plains have almost the perfect conditions for a tornado to occur.
While Europe doesn’t have quite the same conditions, there is still the possibility of tornadoes and these whirlwinds of devastation are not solitary to America.
Granted, 90% of the tornadoes that do occur, happen in the USA so it may feel like they are unique to the USA, but various European countries do experience them, particularly in Western France.
South Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, Japan, and Southern Brazil, are also no strangers to tornadoes.
Factors That Contribute To The Recorded Tornado Numbers
While you must also take into account the size of each country, there are also three other main factors that impact the statistics of tornado numbers in Europe.
These include Climate Conditions, Historical Records, and Availability of Mass Media and Population Density. We will go deeper into each of these factors now.
For a tornado to form there needs to be very specific climate conditions. Some of Europe simply doesn’t have the correct climate conditions to create these tornadoes as so may not occur.
However, there are some parts of Europe where these climate conditions are more common. Western-central France, northwest Germany, and The Netherlands are all European countries where these climate conditions occur.
They occur here because the areas are more prone to storms due to the convergence of high winds that come from the Atlantic while heavier precipitation also comes from the North Sea.
The Netherlands in particular is more prone to storms as the country sits close to what is known as ‘Tornado Alley’ as well as the ‘Mediterranean Convergence Zone.’
Out of the whole of Europe, it is probably the Netherlands that is most likely to be affected by a tornado.
Now, to truly and accurately assess how many tornadoes occur in a particular place, you need to look back through historical records to see when they have occurred.
Obviously, tornadoes have happened for many hundreds of years, and while out of all weather events tornadoes are one of the most recorded, they’re still not all that well recorded.
The historical records for tornadoes in the USA go as far back as 1785, while some countries in Europe have really only just begun to record tornadoes within the last few decades, which could count for some of the discrepancies between America and Europe.
It is worth noting that countries with long time series such as the UK, Estonia, and Germany provide data to the best of their ability with judicious judgments regardless of their fairly small size.
Availability Of Mass Media & Population Density
Most natural occurrences such as tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes should always be reported, this is often done by those who have witnessed them.
I’m sure we’ve all seen news footage of people who have now been able to capture the occurrence on their cellphones.
Gathering reports of tornado occurrences from European countries which are sparsely populated can be quite a struggle due to the lack of individuals in the area and the density of communication networks can be quite low.
How Many Tornadoes Occur?
Don’t worry, if you’re planning a trip to Europe or you live somewhere in Europe, the likelihood of you actually experiencing a destructive tornado is very slight.
With that being said, Europe does still experience around 700 tornadoes a year, they just don’t tend to be as powerful and strong as what you’ll see in the US.
Tornadoes are at their highest likelihood of happening from June up until August, while from January through March there are almost no observed tornadoes.
Most tornadoes that do occur in Europe, happen in the eastern Mediterranean countries. As previously mentioned, the most common countries for tornadoes in Europe are Germany and the Netherlands.
Coincidentally these are also the highest population density countries in the Mediterranean.
The United Kingdom has more tornadoes than other European countries. It is estimated that throughout the year there are anywhere between 30-50 tornadoes in the UK.
These tornadoes don’t tend to be massively powerful and on the Fujita scale (that measures tornadoes on a scale of 0 to 5) they are usually scaled at F0 or F1. So they are unlikely to have a massive impact on the countries.
Tornado Monitoring Agencies
Agencies monitoring and observing severe weather events in Europe have increased over the past couple of years. As have the amount of people who record these events.
I suppose as technologies have advanced, recording these events has become a lot easier. Even in just the last few decades technology has progressed massively.
Cast your minds back before iPhones (I know, scary) when a camera wasn’t always as readily available, these kinds of occurrences were easier to miss.
Now, in a matter of seconds, you can be recording what’s happening and this has meant that occurrences that may have been missed by professionals are still being recorded.
If you want to find an agency with dependable tornado statistics or information, check out the following:
- European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL)
- European Severe Weather Directory (ESWD)
- European Storm Weather Experiment (ESTOFEX)
The objective of these agencies is to increase awareness of progressing all natural occurrences and disasters. They will also publish any events that have taken place which may be progressing these extreme weather routines.
What Damage Have European Tornadoes Caused?
Just because most tornadoes do not reach high on the Fujita scale does not mean that Europe is a stranger to the destruction of tornadoes.
Here are a few examples of where tornadoes have caused severe damage to European countries:
- City Of London, UK, 1091 – Most of the city was completely decimated by a large and powerful tornado.
- Paris, France, 1910 – Again, most of the town of Paris was completely devastated by a tornado.
- Monville, France, 1845 – A tornado drove through Monville. There were over 200 fatalities and 70 people were injured.
Tornadoes VS Waterspouts
What is a waterspout? It’s very big, standing columns of water that come from cumulonimbus clouds. They can be seen somewhat like a pendant cone through condensation or dust in the lower part as a hose-like pillar.
A really strong confluence of winds then ensues in a funnel-shaped area of the plummeting air within this vertex. It’s pretty much a water tornado that is also in the air.
However, the destruction caused by a waterspout can often be much worse than even the most consequential of storms.
Effects Of Waterspouts
Some people argue that waterspouts are tornadoes that simply form in the sea or by other large bodies of water. This has not been scientifically proven though and can be a major cause for debate among professionals.
Due to their nature though, they can affect both ships and aircraft – causing significant damage to both. Because of this, waterspouts should really be recorded and taken as seriously, if not more seriously, than tornadoes.
Usually, though, waterspouts tend to be accounted for under the classification of tornadoes.
Tornadoes And Landlocked Countries
A few landlocked countries, for example, Switzerland, have reported very little of tornadoes and waterspouts that were caused due to the proximity of large bodies of water.
However, if a tornado does not cross a large body of water (small lakes and rivers are not classed as a large body of water) then it can not be considered a waterspout. Waterspouts only ever occur over a large body of water.
The lack of reports on waterspouts in Europe may also cause some of the discrepancies between the USA as European meteorologists claim that waterspouts are much more underreported than that of tornadoes.
This means that there could actually be a fair few more tornadoes in Europe than are accounted for. This can wreak havoc on statistics for the continent as a whole because so many tornadoes, waterspouts in particular just aren’t recorded properly.
Just to put into perspective the issue with underreporting, Germany currently estimates that there are anywhere between 3-5 times more tornadoes than are actually on records, while Spain says that there are probably closer to 6 times more than recorded.
This makes comparing the difference a struggle as the data just isn’t accurate at all.
In places such as Germany, waterspouts are actually quite common throughout the summer in the North and Baltic seas, however, there just isn’t a systematic way to record these events in place yet.
Data also even suggests that there are approximately over 30% more waterspouts in Europe than there are tornadoes, so if these were correctly recorded then the number of tornadoes in Europe may be considerably higher than reports suggest.
So what did we learn throughout this article? Firstly, yes Europe does experience tornadoes.
It is important to keep in mind though, that these tornadoes tend to be fairly low on the Fujita scale and so are rarely as destructive as some of the tornadoes you may see in the United States of America.
And since tornadoes tend to be so rare and low on the scale, many European countries don’t actually have emergency plans in place in case of a tornado.
Simply put, the risk just isn’t high enough to warrant creating extensive precautions for this natural occurrence.
There is probably a need for further analysis of tornado possibilities and patterns for countries such as Switzerland and Germany where tornadoes are more likely. After all, it’s always better to be prepared and the countries may benefit from defense schemes.
However, we also learned that comparing and quantifying tornadoes between America and Europe is quite difficult due to the lack of reporting.
America has a much more extensive list of reports on tornadoes and has been recording when they have taken place since the 1700s while some European countries have only really started recording tornadoes in the past couple of decades.
The lack of recordings of waterspouts also causes a discrepancy between the two continents.