So far, the tornadoes we know from disaster movies or other continents have avoided our country. The location in the centre of Europe seemed safe, although, as it turns out, we were wrong about that. Last night, the most terrifying tornado in modern Czech history swept through southern Moravia, devastating about seven villages, and moreover, affecting the Hodonín Zoo as well.
On Thursday evening, a powerful tornado with an estimated strength of F3 or F4, making it the strongest storm of this type in the modern history of our country, hit southern Moravia. The strength of tornadoes is measured according to the so-called Fujita scale. Thursday's tornado could become the strongest in Czech history, possibly even in the history of Central Europe.
We feel safe. But should we?
"Tornadoes are not as rare in Europe as you might imagine - several hundred are thought to occur across the continent each year. However, exact estimates vary and some tornadoes are almost certainly not reported, because they hit sparsely populated rural areas,"
said meteorologist Ben Rich for BBC.
Tornadoes have been reported on every continent on Earth except Antarctica - yet even here they are theoretically possible. But in the US, residents see the most tornadoes of all, averaging more than 1,000 a year. The continent also records more violent twisters than anywhere else in the world. Its mountainous landscape and proximity to the warm, humid Gulf of Mexico provide the perfect conditions for "thunderstorms", which are the very storms that spawn tornadoes.
The overnight social media tornado
Social media has been flooded with dozens of amateur videos of people authentically commenting on the airstream they filmed from the windows of their homes, begging for the deadly havoc to avoid them.
On average, tornadoes occur in our country about five times a year, with some years having more - up to 15 - and others having none.
"I looked out the window and knew this was no ordinary lightning storm or windstorm. When I opened the door, I immediately slammed it shut again because a hailstone the size of a tennis ball landed in front of me,"
says Jana from the Breclav region, still horrified.
"Well, I got a hole in my roof and my car got banged up."
says Svatopluk from Břeclav region on his social media.
"I was angry, but when I saw what it caused to others, it's a complete trifle. Hang in there... This really makes you realize how powerless you are, that what you consider important is not that important..."
Many are reacting to his post in a similar way.
In a tweet, Czech internal affairs minister Jan Hamáček described the situation as "very serious", adding that all available rescue units had been deployed. The minister, who has now arrived in the disaster-hit area, said a state of emergency had been declared.
Tornadoes still underestimated in Central Europe
No one expected a tornado here in Central Europe. The rarity of their occurrence and their usually weaker intensity have lulled us to rest on our laurels. For many years it seemed that European tornadoes shouldn't even be called that. The low frequency and mostly weaker intensity of European tornadoes is the reason why they are underestimated in this country, as if they were no danger at all.
"Perhaps this is why the more general term "tromba" ("vortex") has taken hold in our languages, as if the term "tornado" was unacceptable or inappropriate,"
states the website tornáda.cz .
One characteristic trait distinguishing a tornado from a storm is the fact that its base touches the ground - if it does not, it is not a tornado, but a vortex ("tromba"). These do not have such a large destructive effect -and about ten of them are observed in the Czech Republic every year.
A deadly force
A tornado is a meteorological phenomenon in which a rotating air vortex with a roughly vertical axis moves at a speed of up to 500 km per hour. Due to the condensation of water vapour, a tornado looks like a funnel-shaped column or an elephant's trunk. To the human eye, a tornado appears as a powerful pillar of rotating wind that takes everything in its course with it.
Tornadoes last for varying lengths of time, from a few tens of seconds to several hours. Tornadoes are most common in the United States, with an average of 1,200 tornadoes a year. Roughly one percent of this number are destructive F4/EF4 or F5/EF5 tornadoes.
5 to 15 tornadoes a year in our country
"In our country, we most often talk about having some 5 tornadoes per year, mostly of very low intensity, but they can still cause damage. On the Fujita scale, they reach a maximum of F2, i.e. with wind speeds of 181 to 253 km/h. On the other hand, the strongest wind gusts on the scale below F5 reach wind speeds of 419 to 512 km/h,"
said Dagmar Honsová from the Meteopress agency for Blesk.
After last night, no one doubts the existence of tornadoes in our area anymore. Tornadoes are launched from the base of a storm cloud and have a vertical axis of rotation, as opposed to a group of atmospheric phenomena called cyclones or hurricanes, which have a horizontal axis of rotation. A tornado is very attractive to look at, but harbours a deadly force at its centre.
Yesterday's tornado destroyed houses, schools and churches, sent trees flying through the air. A total of seven villages in the Břeclav region are paralysed and humanitarian aid is heading there. Meteorologists shall now measure the actual wind speed based on the damage caused, so we could know how strong the tornado was.
The risk still persists throughout Friday, and neighbouring countries such as Austria, Poland and Slovakia are also on alert.
Tornadoes in the Czech Republic since 2000
2000 - Tornadoes hit northern and southern Bohemia in June and July. An F2 tornado in the Chomutov region damaged roadside vegetation, forests, agricultural areas, destroyed a sports hall and a number of houses. In the Pelhřimov district, a forest was destroyed. In the same year, a tornado swept through the village of Studnice in the Vyškov region and damaged 23 houses in less than 20 minutes.
2001 - In May, strong tornadoes of F2 and F3 level of strength hit the districts of Benešov and Havlíčkův Brod. It was caused by the occurrence of a supercell storm and accompanied by several secondary sucking vortices. Forests, barns, farm buildings and several houses were destroyed. In July, a wave of F2 tornadoes hit Moravia as well.
2002 - A tornado damaged the roofs of 30 houses in Hevlín, Znojmo region.
2004 - A very strong tornado swept over Litovel in the Olomouc region and devastated a third of the town,.The roofs of about 50 houses were torn or damaged, dozens of trees fell, cars were flipped over, parks and houses destroyed. Wind speeds exceeded 330 kilometres per hour and damage was estimated at CZK 100 million. The strength of this tornado was rated as F3 (252 to 332 km/h).
2005 - In June, two houses in Třebom, Opava region, were destroyed. In July, an F2 tornado also hit the Ore Mountains.
2007 - A year rich in tornadoes. One hit in January in the Cheb region (F2), another one in February in the Náchod region (F1), yet another in July in the Trutnov and Prachatice regions, where it blew off the roofs of houses and knocked down trees, and last one in October in the Jindřichův Hradec region.
2008 - A strong tornado in the Chrudim region caused widespread forest windfalls, many buildings were damaged as well. The state forests lost about 170 thousand cubic metres of timber. This was the strongest and most destructive tornado since the tornado in Litovel.
2009 - A weak tornado was seen in the town of Slaný near Kladno. Damage was minimal.
2010 - Tornado in Olešnice in the Blansko region damaged the roofs of nearly 20 buildings, four of them severely. Another tornado was also recorded in the Prostějov region.
2011 - A tornado hit the Staré Čívice outskirts of Pardubice and other villages in Pardubice (F2) and Chrudim regions. It caused damage worth tens of millions of crowns.
2013 - In Krnov, Bruntál region, a tornado damaged the roofs of more than 40 buildings. Eight people suffered minor injuries. In May, a windstorm hit Chotětov.
2016 - A tornado destroyed some properties in Červená Hora, Náchod region.
2018 - A tornado raged in Horšov in Domažlice region along a strip about three kilometres long. Another tornado struck Kněževes and Chrášt'any in Rakovník region on the same day, damaging the roofs of houses and uprooting trees. Later it caused landslides in a nearby forest.
24 June 2021 - According to meteorologists, a tornado occurred in southern Moravia, in the Břeclav and Hodonín regions. Half of the village of Hrušky in the Břeclav region was levelled, according to the deputy mayor, Marek Babisz. The strength of the tornado is estimated to F3 to F4.