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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Tornado is 'worst for 25 years'
By Zoe Gough
BBC News

Homes and businesses have been overwhelmed by one of the most devastating tornados seen in the UK.

Street in south Birmingham - Picture: Sarah Hyde
Kings Heath was devastated by the ferocious winds

Yet just over 70 years ago a similar whirlwind struck the same spot.

On Thursday afternoon, people ran in terror as vicious winds overturned cars, tore up trees and ripped slates or entire roofs off properties in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham.

The last time the city was struck by a tornado on a similar scale was in 1931 - in the nearby Hall Green and Small Heath district.

One woman was even killed in her bed by that twister.

So what makes this particular spot prone to this ferocious weather event?

Car with fallen tree on it
The air has gone up, it has to come down and it came down on Kings Heath and Balsall Heath
John Kings, meteorologist

John Kings is a University of Birmingham meteorologist who has been studying the city's weather for 25 years and said he had never seen anything like it.

"It is by far the worst I've ever seen, I remember the October 1987 hurricane but nothing of this particular intensity," he said.

"From a meteorological point of view it really was quite fantastic. It shows what weather can do, but I did see a lot of damage."

He said the tornado was caused by the severe thunder storms crossing the country on Thursday, growing in intensity until they reached south Birmingham.

As a result very warm air and cold air mixed together and started to spin.

As the hot air rose, known as an updraft, the cold air coming across it caused it to rotate, with increasing wind speeds this created a funnel cloud which reached down to the ground and caused the damage.

'UK's most severe'

"The air has gone up, it has to come down and it came down on Kings Heath and Balsall Heath," Mr Kings said.

He said the geography of the area would also have been a factor: "It was the first high bit of land it came to."

Mr Kings said the event probably measured about three to four on the tornado scale, which is monitored by the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation (TORRO).

"That is about the most severe we see in the UK," he said.

"Winds would be averaging about 80 to 90 miles per hour along its axis.

"We get about 30 tornados a year in this country and they are usually quite mild, about a zero, a one or a two.

The chances of this happening again this summer or in the next three or four years in the UK is very, very low
John Kings, meteorologist

"Three to four is pushing it for the UK although it is the lowest strength of tornado felt in the United States.

"So from a world point of view it is not very significant but for the UK it is."

He said it was impossible to forecast a tornado although the severe thunder storms, torrential rain and gusty winds which produced it had been predicted across the country.

Mr Kings said it was unlikely climate change was a cause of such a violent tornado or that there was likely to be any increase in the number seen in the area.

"There is now more urban fabric and that can act as an additional trigger mechanism but I think Birmingham has now grown as much as it possibly can," he said.

"The chances of this happening again this summer or in the next three or four years in the UK is very, very low.

"What is more likely is a similar sort of thing as happened in Selly Oak in 1999, where a funnel cloud took off slates, but nothing like this."

Residents stunned at destruction
29 Jul 05 |  West Midlands
Tornado strikes in Peterborough
29 Jul 05 |  Cambridgeshire
Birmingham Tornado: Your accounts
29 Jul 05 |  Have Your Say
Tornado 'rips off a church roof'
28 Jul 05 |  Lincolnshire
In pictures: Birmingham tornado
28 Jul 05 |  In Pictures


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