TORNADOES IN THE NETHERLANDS

Located as it is within Europe’s optimum zone of tornado frequency (Reynolds 1999), the Netherlands gets its fair share of tornadoes. However, estimates of how many tornadoes the Netherlands gets per year vary quite considerably, with the true number almost certainly underestimated by the literature and especially that in the English language.

Braak (1950) tells readers that all regions of the Netherlands have at some point experienced tornadoes - albeit mostly weak ones - and indicates that tornadoes are most likely during the summer months. Furthermore, during the period 1888-1913 tornadoes were reported over the Netherlands on average eight days per year. Feteris (1950), meanwhile, indicates that on average just two or three tornadoes occur over the Netherlands per year.

More recent research (Kroll 1991) estimates that tornadoes occur on average 20 to 25 times per annum, whilst tornadoes are most likely during the summer period (March to October) of the year (Geurts 2000). The KNMI (Dutch national meteorological service) estimate that on average a few times per year tornadoes strong enough to cause some damage occur in the Netherlands (http://www.knmi.nl/voorl/nader/windhoos.htm) and that around 10 waterspouts occur over Dutch coastal waters per year, most likely during the late summer and autumn (http://www.knmi.nl/voorl/nader/waterhoos.htm, Egthuijsen 2001). In a rank of European nations with known tornadoes, Reynolds (1999) ranks the Netherlands as being 4th with 33 tornadoes known to TORRO during the period 1960-1989. This gives an annual mean of 1.10. The Netherlands is ranked 2nd for the frequency per unit area 1960-89. The total frequency is 7.786 per 10,000 km2 and 0.2625 per 10,000 km2 for annual frequency. By way of comparison the total frequency per 10,000 km2 for the UK is 40.86 and the annual frequency per 10,000 km2 is 1.3612. Teunissen and van Lare (2001), meanwhile, report that during 2000 58 tornadoes or funnel clouds and 38 waterspouts were reported over the Netherlands.

Most of the tornadoes that affect the Netherlands are weak and in fact tornadoes of T5 (see this TORRO page for an explanation of the T scale) or greater (Meaden 1985) are uncommon in the Netherlands (Geurts 2000). However, occasionally severe tornadoes (T8 and greater) do occur and the rest of this article is devoted to giving details of some the Netherlands’ more famous events. Locations of places mentioned in the following text can be found in Figure 1 (below), along with the locations of some of the Netherlands’ more well-known places for reference.

Tornado 1674 August 1 (new style calendar), Utrecht
This was one the Netherlands’ most famous tornadoes and affected part of the city centre. The nave of the cathedral (the Dom, the tower of which was the tallest building in the Netherlands until relatively recently) was destroyed, splitting the cathedral into two parts. There are some doubts as to whether the nave was destroyed by the tornado or straight line winds because details of the construction of the nave (which, in order to save costs, was constructed out of weaker materials than the rest of the cathedral) suggest that strong gusts would have been sufficient to damage and destroy the nave (Geurts 1985). However, contemporary press reports do indicate that a tornado did affect central Utrecht on the date in question (Geurts 1985) causing substantial damage. For example, the towers of five churches were damaged or destroyed and all but two windmills lining the town wall were also destroyed (Buisman 2000).

Tornado 1925 August 10, Borculo
This tornado is one of most famous tornadoes of the 20th century in the Netherlands and was responsible for the deaths of three people (Geurts and Kuiper 1997). Many buildings in this eastern Dutch town were damaged or destroyed by the storm responsible for the tornado. However, it seems that much damage was caused by gusts from the storm rather than the tornado itself (Geurts 2000). Reynolds (1999), meanwhile, rates this tornado as one of the eight most intense European tornadoes on record to the end of 1997.

Tornado 1927 June 1, Lichtenvoorde/Neede/Tubbergen
This tornado also struck eastern parts of the Netherlands, this time affecting an area along a path from Lichtenvoorde - Neede - Tubbergen (Geurts 2000). This T7 tornado had a path which was between 400 and 500 m wide and trees and farms along the path of the tornado were damaged or destroyed. Ten people were killed by this tornado or as a result of lightning from the associated thunderstorm (Geurts and Kuiper 1997) and parts of the extreme west of Germany were also affected by the tornado.

Waterspout>Tornado 1948 November 5, Vlieland
A rather unusual tornado event affected the northern Dutch island of Vlieland just before 04:00 local time. Here a tornado, which almost certainly began life as a waterspout, passed directly over the official observing station at a harbour on the small island (Ten Kate 1948). The anemometer reading at the time of the tornado reached the top of the paper and several millimetres beyond, indicating that wind speeds within the tornado reached at least 185 km/hr (the upper limit of the anemometer scale) and probably somewhere close to 200 km/hr; Zwart (1985), for example, puts the figure at 198 km/hr, which means this tornado had an intensity of T4.

Tornaodes 1950 August 23, Veluwe
This tornado with a path length of around 46 km and width up to 1 km wide affected the Veluwe woodland area in the central Netherlands. Tens of thousands of trees were destroyed and an area approximately 35,900 m2 was affected by the tornado (Geurts and Kuiper 1997). Fortunately there were no major settlements along the path of the tornado so very few buildings were affected and there were no casualties. The same thunderstorm complex did, however, produce another tornado further north at Haulerwijk, Friesland, totally destroying four houses.

18 Funnel Clouds/Waterspouts>5+Tornadoes 1953 August 17, IJsselmeer
One of the Netherlands’ most spectacular waterspout outbreaks occurred over the IJsselmeer at lunchtime. At least 18 waterspouts were observed under the same shower in just 90 minutes (De Jong 1953) although at least some of these may actually have been funnel clouds. Most of these waterspouts remained over the IJsselmeer but eye-witnesses reported that at least five waterspouts came ashore.

Tornadoes 1967 June 25, Oostmalle (Belgium), Chaam and Tricht
An active front fuelled by the convergence over the Netherlands of cool air from Britain, warm and humid air from France and warm, dry air over the eastern part of the Netherlands spawned a severe thunderstorm which produced damaging squalls, large hail (including hailstones the size of peas, marbles and eggs in some places according to Wessels 1968) and three tornadoes (Geurts and Kuiper 1997), rather than a single tornado with a much longer track as suggested by Reynolds (1999) based upon Nalivkin (1986) (personal communication). The first tornado occurred close to the Dutch border in northern Belgium where more than half of the 907 homes in Oostmalle were damaged or destroyed (Geurts and Kuiper 1997).

The second tornado touched-down just over the Dutch border roughly halfway between the towns of Breda and Tilburg. The tornado tracked for 11 km and whilst there were very few buildings in the path many trees were blown down and two people at a campsite in Chaam were killed.

A third tornado then touched-down, this time for 15 km, a little further north in the central Netherlands (Wessels 1968). This time there were more witnesses and more damage occurred, most notably at a housing estate in Tricht where around 100 houses were damaged or destroyed and five people were killed.

The same system produced tornadoes over parts of north-eastern France the previous evening killing eight people and injuring 80. These tornadoes were two of the region’s most violent ever (Meaden 1985), whilst on the 25th another tornado may touched down in western Belgium (Wessels 1968).

Tornado 1981 October 6, Moerdijk
During the late afternoon an aeroplane which had just taken off from Rotterdam en route to Eindhoven came into contact with a tornado which caused the aeroplane to lose a wing (Roach and Findlater 1983) and crash near Moerdijk killing all on board. According to Thomas (1982), de Jong (1983) and Otten et al. (2000) 17 were killed whilst Meaden and Elsom (1985) report that 19 perished.

Waterspout>Tornado 1972 August 11 and 1992 August 17, Ameland
Waterspouts are a regular occurrence in Dutch coastal areas in the late summer and autumn and are estimated to occur roughly 10 times a year on   average (Geurts 2000). Usually the entire life-cycle of these waterspouts takes place over water, although every now and again a waterspout comes onshore and becomes a tornado. Such a thing happened in 1972 when seven people were killed and 90 were injured at a campsite on the northern Dutch island of Ameland when a tornado passed over the site (Pelleboer 1983, Rowe and Meaden 1995). During this tornado, caravans - some of them occupied at the time - were lifted up by the force of the tornado. A fraction over 20 years later, in 1992, a similar thing happened at another campsite on the same island (Otten et al. 2000). This time one person was killed which, at the time of writing, was the last time a tornado killed anyone in the Netherlands.

Concluding Remarks
Readers wishing to find out more about tornadoes in the Netherlands may like to visit the KNMI web site, the Dutch Storm Chase Team site, Meteonet or the Vereniging voor Weerkunde en Klimatologie. The Vereniging voor Weerkunde en Klimatologie (VWK) also publishes a monthly bulletin called Weerspiegel which often contains reports of recent Dutch tornadoes and waterspouts. Recently some of these reports have also appeared in The Journal of Meteorology.

References
BRAAK, C. (1950): Het klimaat van Nederland. Servire, p.88.
BUISMAN, J. (2000): Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen. Van Wijnen, p.767.
DE JONG, J. J. G. (1953): Talrijke windhozen boven het IJselmeer. Hemel en Dampkring, 51, 170-171.
DE JONG, H. (1983): Het Weer te Kijk. Uitgeverij Boekencentrum B.V./’s Gravenhage, p.198.
EGTHUIJSEN, M. (2001): Kijken naar het weer. Het Weer, 4, 16-17.
GEURTS, H. (1985): Kijk op het weer. Zomer and Keuning, p.148.
GEURTS, H. (2000): Het weer nader verklaard. Elmar, p.193.
GEURTS, H. and KUIPER, J. (1997): Weergaloos Nederland. Kosmos-Z&K, p.143.
FETERIS, P. J. (1950): The Dutch Tornado of 21 June 1950. Weather, 5, 287-289.
KROLL, E. (1991): Altijd weer. BZZToH, p.144.
MEADEN, G. T. (1985): Tornadoes in Britain, TORRO, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. (Prepared for H.M. Nuclear Installations Inspectorate), p.131.
MEADEN, G. T. and ELSOM, D. (1985): The tornado threat in Europe. Journal of Meteorology, 10, 243-246.
NALIVKIN, D. V. (1986): Hurricanes, Storms and Tornadoes, A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
OTTEN, H., KUIPER, J. and VAN DER SPEK, T. (2000): Weer een eeuw. Tirion, p.239.
PELLEBOER, J. (1983): Weerboek. Publiboek, p.152.
REYNOLDS, D. J. (1999): European tornado climatology, 1960-1989. Journal of Meteorology, 24, 376-403.
ROACH, W. T. and FINDLATER, J. (1983): An aircraft encounter with a tornado. The Meteorological Magazine, 112, 29-49.
ROWE, M. W. and MEADEN, G. T. (1995): British tornadoes and waterspouts of the 1970’s, part 3: 1972 and 1973. Journal of Meteorology, 20, 139-148.
TEN KATE, H. (1948): De windhoos op Vlieland. Hemel en Dampkring, 46, 216-217.
TEUNISSEN, J. and VAN LARE, M. (2001): Hozen. Weerspiegel, 28, 278-282.
THOMAS, A. J. (1982): World-wide weather disasters: October 1981. Journal of Meteorology, 7, 20-22.
WESSELS, H. R. A. (1968): De zware windhozen van 25 Juni 1967, Hemel en Dampkring, 66, 155-178.
ZWART, B. (1985): De weersverwachting voor vandaag en morgen. Prisma, p.192.

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Dan Suri, 10 December 2001