UK tornados have started to baffle weather experts, as, while the phenomena remain rare on British shores, they appear to have started to adopt clear-cut local stomping grounds.
The weather systems are surging across a “tornado alley” in the UK as they become increasingly common, with up to 30 reported each year by forecasters like the Met Office.
Scientists studying their patterns have dubbed the UK an emerging “tornado hotspot” after one small but particularly vicious system tore apart a neighbourhood in Littlehampton, a small town in West Sussex.
Pictures of the town following its brush with the swirling mass of wind show knocked down walls, broken windows, and twisted trees, but with little damage and no deaths, observers dubbed it a “mini” tornado.
One scientist has admitted that meteorologists are unclear as to why these develop so frequently in the UK – as the country’s conditions are not seen as conducive to the phenomena as elsewhere – and he has identified three key areas where tornados have become the most common.
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David Schultz, a Professor of Synoptic Meteorology at the University of Manchester, has said the UK is a hotspot for mini tornadoes in an article for The Conversation.
He quoted research from Kelsey Mulder, a former PhD student who worked under him at the university, which found that the country sees approximately 2.3 tornadoes per 10,000 square kilometres each year.
When comparing the numbers with tornado-prone US states like Kansas and Oklahoma, he concluded that a “random location in the UK is more likely to experience a tornado than a random location in the US”.
The UK also has a unique “tornado alley” unlike the one that stretches from Texas to South Dakota.
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According to Professor Schultz, the UK’s tornado alley is actually three separate regions.
He wrote: “The UK’s tornado alley is really three regions, most in southern England: an area south of a line between Reading and London with a maximum near Guildford, locations southwest of Ipswich and a line west and south of Birmingham.”
He explained that each of these regions has a probability of experiencing a tornado within a 100 square kilometre area between three and six percent per year.
Those probabilities translate to approximately one tornado every 15 to 30 years.
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Professor Schulz said that while it is possible to predict the average frequency of a tornado in the UK, it is currently unclear why so many develop.
He said: “We still don’t know exactly why the UK has so many weak tornadoes.
“We do know that ‘supercells’ – rotating thunderstorms tens of kilometres across – form the largest tornadoes in the US but occur less frequently in the UK.
“Instead, tornadoes in the UK tend to be formed from lines of storms along cold fronts.”
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