Two Extreme Tornadoes Devastate Towns in Eastern South Africa, Causing at Least 11 Deaths and Over 1,000 Displaced

Two extreme tornadoes claimed the lives of at least 11 people in eastern South Africa, a country where such events are not so common. Everything indicates that these would be tornadoes of at least the EF4 category, which implies gusts of more than 300 km/h.

Tornadoes South Africa.
The level of damage from the two tornadoes that occurred this week in South Africa has been very extensive. It is likely that at least one of them had maximum gusts above 300 km/h.

At least two intense tornadoes were responsible for at least 11 deaths in South Africa this week. As CNN reports, in addition to the deceased, about 50 have been injured of varying severity. The tornadoes developed last Monday and hit part of the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal, in the east of the country.

The South African Weather Service suggests that climate change may increase the frequency and intensity of tornadoes due to rising temperatures and evaporation levels, which create favourable conditions for the formation of storms and tornadoes.

The devastating storms caused extensive damage, particularly in the town of Tongaat, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal province. Images collected at the scene showed razed neighbourhoods with serious damage and debris from dozens of destroyed houses.

“The damage is enormous,” Nomusa Dube-Ncube, Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, told the press. It was also indicated that the number of victims is preliminary and could increase, both due to missing people and very seriously injured people hospitalised.

The South African Weather Service confirmed that there were at least two tornadoes that occurred on the afternoon of Monday, 3 June. In an official statement it was indicated that the situation that promoted these developments was associated with a low pressure system segregated at medium levels, which interacted with warmer air on the surface, while a wedge of drier air approached from the South African interior.

Total destruction

The authorities also indicated that the magnitude of the damage was such that at least 1,000 people were displaced, and many of them had lost everything. The first tornado occurred between Newcastle and Utrecht, in the western interior of KwaZulu-Natal province. A second, larger tornado then developed around the town of Tongaat, a town of about 45,000 people. This tornado moved east to the coast near Westbrook and Ballito where it caused further destruction.

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Due to the magnitude of the destruction, both the provincial and national governments are working together to erect temporary shelters. Services such as electricity and access to water are severely compromised.

Although tornadoes do occur in South Africa, they are not a frequent phenomenon, although the province of KwaZulu-Natal has a history of extreme conditions that have caused a lot of damage in the past.

Everyone remembers that in 2022, more than 3,000 people died as a result of very intense rains that caused flooding, which at the time was described as one of the worst storms to hit the country. The east of the country meets the conditions for this type of development since drier air from the west has the capacity in some situations to sneak beneath warmer and more humid air of maritime origin.

What the statistics say about tornadoes in South Africa

The images that accompany this note, and others that were generated in the region, could demonstrate that the tornadoes were so intense as to be within the EF4 or EF5 category of the enhanced Fujita scale. This means that gusts of more than 300 km/h could have been generated.

The images also show that they would be a type of tornado that in meteorology is known as a “wedge tornado”, characterised by having a base wider than the distance between the ground and the base of the cloud, and which is associated with the most deadly.

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Statistically, tornadoes in South Africa are relatively rare compared to other parts of the world, but they do occur and can cause significant damage. The eastern regions of the country, such as where these events occurred, are the area most prone to its development.

Most tornadoes in South Africa occur between November and January, although there are also some in spring and autumn, like this case, a few days before winter. Still, this makes it that much more special.

About 65% of South Africa's tornadoes are classified as EF0 or EF1, indicating light damage. However, there have been more serious tornadoes like the ones this week. For example, the 1999 Mount Ayliff tornado, rated EF4, caused extensive destruction, leaving 25 dead and about 500 injured. The Welkom tornado of 1990 was one of the largest on record, with a storm front 240 km long and up to 1.7 km wide, causing the destruction of 4,000 homes.