The Tibshelf Tornado

First-hand account of twister
by Philip Eden

Tibshelf, an unassuming Derbyshire mining village some 25 km north of Derby and 10 km west of Mansfield, hit the headlines exactly fifty years ago. On May 19 1952 a small but destructive tornado hit the district around four o'clock in the afternoon. The tornado cut a swath two mile long through the village causing considerable damage to property, trees and crops; fortunately no serious injuries were reported.

Just like this month, May 1952 was quite warm, and a mid-month heatwave culminated on the 19th in a temperature of 30C in London. A humid south-easterly airflow from the continent covered the Midlands, but during the afternoon the warm air was squeezed from two separate directions. A cool east wind from the North Sea blew across Lincolnshire (21C at Lincoln), and a much colder northwesterly flow from the Irish Sea (17C at Manchester) travelled across the Pennines and the Peak District. The instability caused by the convergence of these three contrasting air-masses pro vided the impetus for the growth of the thunderstorm which triggered the tornado.

An excellent eye-witness account was provided by Mr W. H. Hill of Lane End, just north of Tibshelf:

The calmness was suddenly broken by a single lightning flash and crack of thunder. The dog which was with us dashed home at once, and we immediately left the field on a tractor. On reaching the farm a great roaring noise, something like the continuous roar of a great waterfall, could now be heard. To the west ... we could see all the trees in violent turmoil, branches wrenched off, flung upwards, and whirled around with other debris. As sheds and loose objects from the gardens began to sail over, we took shelter in the house.

The air was quite still until the tornado struck the house, flinging a piece of corrugated iron through the window. I was able to get a full view of the vortex, which roared like the updraught in a gigantic flue. The top of a large wooden building a few yards from me suddenly burst upwards and every piece of loose wood was torn out. A large cornstack nearby was w hipped into the air sheaf by sheaf as by a giant juggler, and held there before being flung aside. Heavy stone ridge tiles were plucked from the house, and the whole yard was full of flying stones and rubble as the disturbance passed over, leaving the air as quiet as before.

To survive such a close encounter with a tornado must be quite rare, but to survive it and be able to put together such a clear and measured description of the event is probably unique.

The tornado travelled from north to south with the general airflow - most British tornadoes move from SSW to NNE