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F2 Tornado strikes Carolina area

In mid-October, farmers in central Mpumalanga are generally worrying about preparing their fields and planting. And when they look at the sky, it’s to keep an eye out for the life-giving rains. But when Hannes van Aswegen looked out across his fields just after 17h00 on Thursday 16 October, it wasn’t rain that he saw approaching – it was an F2 tornado.

As can be seen from the accompanying images, this was not a whirlwind or a dust-devil. This was an actual, frighteningly real tornado, and it was moving fast. Based on eye-witness accounts and descriptions of some of the devastation caused by the tornado – as well as definitive classifications posted on multiple US extreme weather watch websites – the tornado was classified as an F2 on the enhanced Fujita “F” scale. This means that sustained winds generated by this monster reached speeds of up to 180 kmh., with gusts and micro-bursts frequently topping that.

The tornado touchdown was witnessed by van Aswegen just after 17h00 on his farm, located about 20 km. south-west of Carolina. In a telephonic interview with the shocked farmer, he related to THG how the extreme winds had ripped the tarpaulins off of his planters in a howling near miss. “They just disappeared up into the air! I don’t think that I will ever see them again,” he said. It would seem that one of van Aswegen’s neighbours was not so lucky, however. Van Aswegen went on to relate that, as far as he could see, the tornado was on the ground for nearly 15 minutes, but was moving away from him very fast and in the direction of Mr. T.V. Pretorius’ farm. “The tornado really hit him hard,” he said. “I was there with him straight after the tornado hit. The roofs were torn off the buildings and the chicken coop had been flattened. They were all very shocked and there was a lot of damage,” he concluded.

Despite the recent installation of a severe weather radar in nearby Ermelo, no warnings were received and it is unclear as to whether the storm cell had been detected by the local weather gurus. The SA Weather Bureau website did not have any severe weather warnings listed for the area at the time and, the following morning, carried no reports at all about the tornado. It is perhaps just a matter of luck that the tornado touched down in an open, rural environment instead of in a built-up urban area – where the damage would likely have been far more extensive and possibly even have resulted in loss of life. At time of going to press, THG had not received any additional reports of damage or injuries, but given the power of the tornado, it is likely that a number of other local residents suffered losses.