To experience nature in all of its raw fury is an event in itself, but to experience this extreme weather in a country filled with a raw beauty of its own, well that is exceptional. The concept of storm chasing originated in the US but the popularity of this adrenalin charged extreme sport has spread around the globe. To experience Storm Chasing in South Africa is to witness the immense power and destructive force of elemental nature.
The popularity and interest in Storm Chasing in South Africa has grown considerably over the past few years, this could in part be a reaction to the Discovery Channel series ‘Storm Chasers’ which has popularised it immensely. There are a number of reasons why individuals choose to become storm chasers. Many have interest in photography and chase storms in the hope of capturing a dramatic and original shot. Others are drawn be the sheer destructive force that a tornado brings with it, an experience that provides the same adrenalin rush as any extreme sport, whilst others wish to study the phenomenon and learn as much about them as they can.
The South African weather service have recently installed a Doppler radar which can measure the velocity and radial direction of the winds in a storm, mapping the rotation of the winds from more than 100 miles away, collecting evidence of any possible tornados en route. South Africa now boasts a growing community of storm chasers, all eager to witness, experience and understand this raw display of nature at its finest.
Since 1948 there have been over 100 tornado related fatalities and over 1500 reported injuries as a result of extreme weather, the numbers are believed to be considerably higher as there has never been any standardised reporting with regards to extreme weather and tornadoes, which makes Storm Chasing in South Africa even more of an adventure.
On March 20th 1990 a multi vortex tornado raced through the suburbs of Welkom with a 240km long severe storm front. Its width measured up to 1.7km across. This event proved to be the most financially costly storm in South African history to date as upwards of four thousand homes were destroyed. In 2008 shipping containers were thrown 200m by the force of the tornado whose trail of destruction stretched for over 10km.
The areas tornadoes typically arise with very hot air masses and severe thunderstorms, mainly occurring around mid-summer (from November to January), though they have been reported occurring in the spring and early summer (September and October), with occasional events in the late summer and autumn (February to May). As with other storm prone areas like Tornado Valley in the US, most events occur in the late afternoon or early evening, which is typically between 16.00 – 19.00 local time. Storm Chasing in South Africa is unlike any other extreme sport you can experience, it has the edge of unpredictability and danger like no other.