When all hell breaks loose

Home Counties Twister
by Philip Eden

Tornadoes, like hurricanes, hardly happen in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire. But one certainly happened in Bedfordshire on 21 May 1950, and this particular tornado is one of Britain's best known. Most of the damage occurred along a single track, 110 km long, extending from Wendover in Buckinghamshire to Ely in Cambridgeshire.

Adjusted to 2001 prices, losses were estimated at one million pounds, with about half of the losses incurred in the small town of Linslade (then in Bucks, now in Beds). 50 houses were unroofed, a bakery was demolished, farm outhouses were lifted bodily an d smashed to the ground some distance away. According to local newspaper reports, the occupants of one migratory henhouse survived, though in shock and relieved of their feathers. Another eyewitness story, possibly apocryphal, told of a cat in mid-air, fl ying past at full speed with paws outstretched. Cars and farm vehicles were also thrown over, telephone and power lines were broken, and some livestock killed. Mercifully there was no loss of human life. Other towns to report damage were Wendover and Bedf ord, and a bus was overturned at Ely.

British people do not regard their country as one in which tornadoes occur. This is reflected in the regularity with which funnel clouds and small whirlwinds are reported in TV news bulletins and national newspapers. Even some forecasters regard them as v ery rare events, but we now know that this is not so. According to TORRO (the Tornado Research Organisation) there are at least 20 days per year on average when tornadoes are reported somewhere or other in the UK.