/ 8 October 2007

A storm’s a-comin’, but it won’t be a tornado

Emails suggesting that a severe storm with a tornado was to hit Johannesburg and surrounds on Monday afternoon were “greatly exaggerated”, the South African Weather Service (SAWS) said.

An email received by the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday read: “Please take this serious. A weather warning has just been issued by Netcare 911. Within the next hour we will have a temperature drop of 10 degrees. And we will have a severe storm early this afternoon … Please be careful as a tornado dropped in Randfontein on Saturday and is expected today.”

“There will not be any tornadoes in the Gauteng region,” Mark Todd, a forecaster at the service’s national forecast centre, told the M&G Online.

The SAWS did, however, issue a statement warning of a possibility of severe storms on Monday afternoon for the region.

“Wild SMS and email rumours are doing the rounds that Gauteng will be hit by severe thunderstorms and/or tornadoes this afternoon and evening. These rumours are wildly exaggerated,” the weather service’s statement read.

It said thunderstorms were expected to develop over Gauteng later on Monday afternoon. One or two of the storms may become severe, generating strong surface winds and heavy rainfall in some places.

The warning was issued for Gauteng, the southern highveld of Mpumalanga and the extreme northern Free State. The exact areas that will be affected can only be identified using weather radar once the storm has started developing. Such areas can be only be listed within an hour prior to the occurrence of a severe thunderstorm.

“However, this is only a risk that one or two storms may become severe, and certainly no guarantee. Also note that the South African Weather Service has said nothing about tornadoes and hurricanes!” Todd said.

On Saturday, heavy thunderstorms brought down trees in several areas of Johannesburg, including the Golden Highway, south of Johannesburg.

Johannesburg metro police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said strong winds accompanied by heavy rains also caused a tree to fall on a taxi on Jan Smuts Avenue, towards Braamfontein. Nobody was injured in this incident, but a man was killed by falling branches in Lenasia’s extension 13.

Weather forecaster Kevin Rae told News24 the SAWS planned to send meteorologists to the far West Rand on Monday to try to determine the kind of storm that struck the area on Saturday. “We can’t say with any uncertainty if there were several mini-tornadoes, but one thing is clear: it was a highly unusual storm,” he was quoted as saying.

On Monday, the South African Press Association (Sapa) reported Johannesburg companies sending employees home early to avoid the feared storm. It was understood staff of a Johannesburg newspaper fled their offices, leaving only a handful of sub-editors to man the fort, Sapa said.

Sapa’s switchboard was inundated with calls from people wanting to know if the tornado threats were true. Radio stations resorted to broadcasting updates in an attempt to calm the public.