Tornado with winds of 100mph leaves trail of devastation

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A tornado with winds of up to 100mph tore through Horsham in West Sussex yesterday, ripping the roof off a house and leaving a three-quarter mile trail of havoc.

A tornado with winds of up to 100mph tore through Horsham in West Sussex yesterday, ripping the roof off a house and leaving a three-quarter mile trail of havoc.

The storm woke people in the area at about 4.30am and they looked out to find chimneys and television aerials strewn across the road where the twisting winds had rushed through the town.

Jean Bromley, 48, said: "I was woken up by a loud whooshing sound and ran to the door to find out what was happening. You could hear the gusts against the windows and the sound of debris hitting the road outside. It looked like the whole street was going to blow away. One of my neighbours has had her roof ripped clean off and another one's chimney has blown down."

Derek Kemp, 79, a retired chartered surveyor, said: "I heard a sound like an express train. Trees were falling ... It was reminiscent of the great storm of 1987."

The tornado swept through Kerbs Lane in the town before eventually blowing itself out. Roads were closed for three hours while the area was checked, but no one was injured, the local fire service said.

The Meteorological Office in Exeter said that although the experience would have been upsetting for residents, tornadoes were not unusual in Britain. "We get about thirty or forty in this country per year," said a spokesman. "We can't be sure of the windspeed - we never are unless it goes through one of our measurement stations. But the winds probably would have been about 100 miles per hour. We can't say how big the centre would have been without further data which nobody has been able to provide."

The weather conditions in the area had been exactly those required for a tornado - which consists of a rotating column of air. "There was a lot of rain on the radar, and a thunderstorm," said the Met Office spokesman. "They're normally associated with stormy weather."

A study earlier this year found that Britain is hit by about 100 tornadoes every year, but most are not recorded because they remain unseen. The model forecast that south and south-east England would be more likely to be hit than northern areas.

The South has suffered Britain's worst tornado damage. In January 1998, one hit Selsey in West Sussex, causing £10m damage, and in October 2000 the same town was hit again, injuring two people and causing £500,000 damage.

The Met Office dismissed reports earlier this week that the coming winter will be colder than last year. "The signals we have suggest that the north of Britain will be slightly warmer than average, and the south will be roughly on the average," said the spokesman. The estimate is based on climate models derived from the Met Office's supercomputers, which take into account global warming, sea temperatures and other atmospheric data.

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