The Tywyn Tornado, January 21, 1995

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One of the most impressive weather events in Wales over the past decade was this one, in which a strong tornado, with a path 50 m wide and 4.3 km long, touched down just outside Tywyn, N of Aberdyfi in Gwynedd, Wales. Significant damage was done by the tornado, which rated T4 on the TORRO scale or if you prefer, F-2+ on the Fujita scale. Either way the winds that did the damage are estimated to have been up to 135mph in strength!

The synoptic situation involved a low pressure system centred between Iceland and N Scotland (980mb) at midnight on the 21st and over N Scotland 24 hours later, having deepened to 960mb by then. A frontal system was occluding to the south of the parent low. The triple point of the system appears to have passed through Mid-Wales on the day in question. All of Wales was in a run of strong to gale-force SW winds throughout this period.

The tornado began life at about 11.30 am GMT, as a waterspout over Cardigan Bay, according to locals I have spoken to who recalled seeing it out to sea and "never believing it would come ashore". But on it came to make landfall. It appears to have been on-and off the ground, however, with its chief damage area to the NE of the town. Here there are two caravan sites and scattered farms.



Typical tornadic damage - some caravans completely destroyed while others, just out of the path, relatively unscathed. Luckily again this occurred about as far away from the holiday season as possible so that none were occupied. One can imagine what would have been the result if they had been.



Mangled almost beyond recognition.....



Nothing much left apart from a fridge!



This one captures the power of the tornado best for me - big oaks snapped off like twigs. The one in the background is said to have been 100 years old - it certainly has a wide trunk. One can imagine the torque applied by the vortex, taking the whole tree, twisting it until it could no longer bear the incredible strain and - crack! All in a second or so.

The damage photographs were taken a few days after the event by TORRO member Robin Harper, from Barmouth. Robin put a notice in the local Cambrian News and received a few responses, extracts from which are summarised as follows, with the maps from GETAMAP for reference:




Gerllan:

One house damaged: "the TV aerial was ripped from the chimney stack, three or four ridge tiles removed from the roof"; wheelie-bin thrown "about 20 yards...." - local resident.

Hen-Dy:

"It happened at about 11.45 and passed over very quickly. There was a teriffic noise and it lifted many ridging tiles, slates & guttering from the house and momentarily threw slates and tiles from the farm buildings"... "I have never seen our dogs or cats so frightened" - local resident.

Ysgyboriau:

"Around 60 caravans were wrecked, some flattened to just a few inches. Four caravans are still missing" ; "There was a six foot high concrete shed situated nearby that has been demolished as well and gas bottles have been hurled hundreds of yards" - Cambrian News/local resident in Cambrian News.

It was seen as "a white swirling cloud about 50 yards wide, and it hit the ground at the northern end of the caravan site" - son-in-law of site owner in Cambrian News.

"I believe that the only people to actually see it were the site owners. Everybody else saw the huge downpour of rain arriving around the same time. There is some conflict as to the direction of the wind at the time, but the rain apparently came
down from the valleys (my italics) - North to South. I believe the whirlwind actually went in the opposite direction" - local taxi driver.

One caravan owner wearily commented, on seeing his new (10 days usage) 18,000 caravan flattened: "You could say that it has cost me 1800 a night to stay there" - Cambrian News.

Ynysmaengwyn:

"...eight large caravans overturned" - Cambrian News.

Fields towards Bryncrug:

"The bulk of the debris was spread between the two sites and Bryncrug, a village about 1 mile north of the sites" - local taxi driver.

Gwyddelfynydd:

Sometime "around 11.30am to nearest 15 minutes"; a "really strong southerly blast of wind accompanied by rain/hail". Duration "about 30 secs". Damage: 2 trees down; 12-inch ridge tiles and 19 x 12" slates off roof and up to 70m away in field, picnic table lodged in apple tree, horse trailer moved 30m across field and "the whole area strewn with polystyrene, fibreglass and aluminium foil from the caravan sites" - local resident.

Cil Cemmaes:

Trees down/snapped off in woods, some caravan debris noted - local resident.

Near Bird Rock:

"What seems to have gone unreported, however, is that a homeowner near Bird Rock found a large lump of aluminium on their property" - local taxi driver.

Analysis:

Reports indicate that the tornado first touched down at Gerllan on the outskirts of Tywyn. As it tracked NE from here it appears to have intensified judging by comparisons of reported damage at Gerllan and at the caravan sites. It may well have lifted then but definately made touchdown at Gwyddelfynydd, where it was still powerful, and then on through the Cil Cemmaes woods, though by then it had possibly weakened. It was still, however, capable of carrying debris when it passed Bird Rock, and is at present presumed to have dispersed shortly beyond there, unless new information comes to light.

The report of the "downpour coming south" from the taxi driver is very interesting as the tornado was moving north at the time. This may be indicative of a more sizeable rotating system, including a tornado, that I had previously thought may be the case. Clearly, the reports suggest that at least some of the time the tornado was rain- or possibly hail-wrapped.

The estimate of T4 damage was made by TORRO and was based on damage photographs.

Interestingly some locals I have now spoken to have mentioned two other tornadoes affecting roughly the same area in the last 30 years or so. The search for more information about these continues.

If anybody who saw/remembers this event is reading this, I would be delighted to hear from them - click
HERE to contact me by email!

Thanks to Robin for allowing use of his images and collecting original accounts and also to Kevin Bradshaw for additional synoptic information.


More to come soon hopefully so keep looking!

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