In many instances, all the tornado news you’ll encounter is from the United States, and it’s valid to ask do tornadoes happen in Europe.
Granted, the Great Plains in the United States has some of the best conditions for tornadoes to occur, but Tornadoes occurrences are not unique to the US.
While 90% of all tornadoes occur in the US, several European countries also experience tornadoes on occasion, especially in Western France.
Tornados can also be found in various other regions worldwide, including Japan, Eastern and Western Australia, Bangladesh, Southern Brazil, and South Africa.
Factors Contributing to Tornado Numbers in Europe
In addition to the size of a European country, other factors can contribute to different statistics when assessing tornado numbers.
Here are some of those factors:
- Climatic Conditions
- Length of Historical Record
- Mass Media Availability and Population Density
1. Climatic Conditions
West-central France, the Netherlands, and northwest Germany are storm-prone areas because of the confluence of higher-than-average winds from the Atlantic and heavier precipitation from the North Sea.
The Netherlands is at the junction of what’s called the “tornado alley” and the “Mediterranean convergence zone,” so it experiences a lot of tornadoes each year.
2. Length of Historical Record
Understanding the context as to the question are tornadoes common in Europe means we have to look at and assess history.
Tornadoes have existed on the planet for a long time, and the length of historical record, while not vast, is still more substantial than that of some of the other extreme weather events.
In contrast to the length of the historical record for tornadoes in the United States, which goes back to 1785, many European countries have only started to keep detailed tornado records within the past couple of decades.
It’s not surprising that the forecasters can only give probability statements about numbers for the upcoming years since their few recorded events have occurred in a very short period.
It’s also not surprising that experts have not provided very reliable data from so few historical occurrences.
Note: Countries with long time series like the United Kingdom, Germany, and Estonia give data based on well-reasoned judgments despite their relatively small size.
3. Mass Media Availability and Population Density
Like other natural occurrences, Tornadoes have to be reported, sometimes by the people who witness them.
A lot of statistical work depends on the probability of detection and nationwide reporting of a tornado, however small it is.
Receiving reports of tornado events from the sparsely populated areas of the European Continent can be difficult because the number of people in these areas and the density of communication networks are generally low.
How Often do Tornadoes Occur in Europe?
If you live on the continent of Europe, tornadoes are something that you’re likely never to have to experience.
However, Europe has about 700 tornadoes per year, with the highest occurrence in the summer months of June through August. Observations of tornadoes within Europe are rare between January and March.
European tornadoes mostly occur in the eastern Mediterranean countries.
An analysis of reports on tornadoes published in December 2020 found the highest concentration of sightings of these storms over northern Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
They also coincided with the highest population density in this area.
The United Kingdom also has a higher incidence of tornadoes than most other countries in Europe. The average number of tornadoes per year there is between 30 and 50.
Fact: The most common tornadoes in Europe occur at F0 or F1 intensity on the 0 to 5 Fujita scale, which measures tornado power.
European Tornado Monitoring Agencies
In the last fear years, there has been an increasing number of people who chase or observe severe weather events.
These storm chasers have taken many photographs and videos of extreme weather that otherwise would have gone unnoticed by professional meteorologists.
The European organizations with reliable tornado stats and data are:
- European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL)
- European Severe Weather Directory (ESWD)
- European Storm Weather Experiment (ESTOFEX)
The primary purpose of these organizations is to raise awareness of progressing synoptic severe weather situations such as tornadoes.
They also publish severe weather events that have already taken place in European countries, which are affected by the progressing synoptic severe weather patterns.
Damages Caused by Tornadoes
In 1091 the City of London was largely destroyed by a major tornado, and in France, on May 11, 1910, a tornado moved through and destroyed the town of Paris.
On October 28, 1845, another tornado moved through Monville, France, killing 200 people and injuring 70 people.
These are just some examples of tornado outbreaks in Europe.
Even though cities have improved their building codes and other safety measures, the population density of urban centers has increased dramatically, leading to a dramatic rise in potential damage costs.
Fact: In European countries with populations widely dispersed and home to fewer people, fewer tornadoes can be seen and reported.
Waterspouts and Tornadoes
Waterspouts are large, vertical columns of water that form from cumulonimbus clouds reaching the water’s surface.
They are visible partly as a pendant cone through condensation or dust and in the lower part as a hose-like pillar or pillar-like column.
Intense convergence of winds occurs in a funnel-shaped region of descending air within the vortex-like a land tornado.
In some instances, this circulation can grow to scope and width of hundreds of meters. The destruction that waterspouts can cause is often beyond what even the most powerful storms are capable of causing.
Waterspouts, Ships and Aircraft
It could be argued that waterspouts are tornadoes that form at sea or other large water bodies.
However, the idea that tornadoes and waterspouts are different forms of the same weather event remains a topic of debate.
Being the small, whirling columns of air they can cause damage to ships or aircraft. Therefore, from a climatological perspective, waterspout records are also as valuable as land tornado records.
European tornado researchers from coastline countries should be interested in watersports in the region.
Note: Traditionally, European tornadoes and waterspouts are classified together as tornadoes.
Landlocked Countries and Tornadoes
Some landlocked countries, such as Switzerland, report few tornadoes or waterspouts caused by proximity to a large body of water.
Tornadoes that do not cross water bodies other than rivers or small lakes are not technically classified as waterspouts.
According to Europe’s Severe Storms Laboratory, a tornado is considered a waterspout if it occurs over water.
Since there are no reports of tornadoes in countries like Ireland, it can be assumed that any waterspouts seen there are merely tornadoes coming onshore.
According to European meteorologists, the number of unreported waterspout events is thought to be greater than the number of tornadoes over land.
Therefore, when asking do tornadoes happen in Europe, it’s important to factor in underreporting, which is a major problem statistically.
Although no one sure knows how many tornadoes occur, Germany estimates three to five times more than what is observed right now, and Spain thinks there are six times as many.
In Germany, waterspouts are common occurrences in the North and Baltic Seas during and around summer, but the systematic recording of these events has not yet occurred.
Note: Estimates indicate that the number of waterspouts in continental Europe is approximately 30% greater than the number of tornadoes.
Read Next: What Happens if a Tornado Picks you Up?
The answer to the question – Do tornadoes happen in Europe? – is a resounding Yes.
However, because of the rarity in the continent, a few countries, like the Netherlands and Great Britain, do have emergency plans for tornadoes.
Most European governments view their risk as too small to warrant extensive precautions.
A more in-depth analysis of tornado likelihood in Europe is required to help governments target areas, such as Switzerland and Germany, where many tornadoes are likely to occur and thus where tornado defence schemes could be useful.