Selsey’s Devastating Waterspout
We tend to think of tornadoes as something the Americans have to worry about, and indeed theirs tend to be more powerful than those in Europe, but (as watchers of Stephen Fry ’s QI will know) the Netherlands and Britain have more such storms reported by area than any US state. Occasionally we do suffer destructive tornadoes, the worst perhaps being that in London in 1091 ; in 2005 Birmingham had £40 million of damage caused in another.
The seaside town of Selsey near Chichester has gained something of a reputation as a hotspot for tornadoes, with four of significance occurring in the last quarter of the 20th century. It is thought that the Isle of Wight acts (as one commentator has put it) “like a rock in the stream”, sending southerly winds spiralling as they head into the mainland – Southampton and Portsmouth have also been hit by such twisters thanks to their island neighbour.
On the night of January 7 1998 rapidly rotating winds picked up water off the coast and this waterspout carved its way through Selsey in 10 minutes of destruction, damage amounting to £10 million estimated to have been wrought by it. The path was roughly 900 yards wide, preceded by giant hailstones and loud claps of thunder. When it passed cars were found thrown around; some walls were demolished; trees lay uprooted; and Patrick Moore ’s observatory had been badly smashed.
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