Why is it that Europe does not get tornadoes or hurricanes?
– Gene Segretto
Actually, it is a myth that Europe does not get tornadoes or hurricanes.
Let’s start with hurricanes. Believe it or not, former hurricanes and tropical storms have traversed the Atlantic and crashed ashore in the Europe. But, they are no longer classified as “tropical” in structure by the time they get there. The cold water of the North Atlantic changes them into “extratropical” storms — having lost their warm core tropical characteristics after their long track across the colder waters of the North Atlantic. These are the same storms that daily affect the areas outside of the tropics. There have been several occasions when tropical cyclones that formed in the Caribbean or the Atlantic have gotten caught up in the southwesterly flow on the west side of the Bermuda high and traveled northeast past the Canadian Maritimes, toward the British Isles and Scandinavia.
In late October 1996, the remnants of Hurricane Lili packing winds to 90 mph and producing waves to 35 feet wreaked havoc across portions of England before dissipating over northern Norway on Nov. 1.
Hurricanes and tropical storms need warm water to survive and usually quickly die when they reach the cold North Atlantic. The North Atlantic goes quickly from warm to cold because of the cold Labrador Current between 50° and 55° north latitude — the same general latitude as the British Isles, and slightly farther north than the Canadian Maritime province of Newfoundland. Even though a former tropical storm or hurricane might not be classified as tropical system by the time it reaches Europe, it can still do hurricane-like damage with wind gusts reaching 100 mph or more in a few storms. Some – but not all – of the British Isles’ worst storms were former hurricanes.
As for tornadoes, they have been reported on every continent except Antarctica, which does not have the needed contrast between warm and cold air and also the humid air needed for thunderstorms to form.
Europe has plenty of tornadoes, 300 or more a year, according to a study by Nikolai Dotzek, a scientist with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Wessling, Germany. That figure includes roughly 170 observed tornadoes in 25 countries and an educated guess that about 130 others were not reported because they dropped from the sky too briefly to be observed or landed unseen in unpopulated areas of the continent.
The United Kingdom has the most tornadoes of any European country, at about 33 reported tornadoes per year. That number jumps to 50 when unreported tornadoes are added. This makes the United Kingdom the world’s leader in tornadoes based on number of twisters per area of land.
Large tornadoes have ravaged Europe in recent years. One smashed its way through Bognor Regis in southern England on Oct. 28, 2000, causing $7 million in damage and injuring four people. Europe’s most destructive tornado tore through the German town of Pforzheim in July 1968, causing $25 million in damage.