On tornados

Finland has been safe from natural disasters for a long time. We don’t have any strong earthquakes (some tremors that seismologists register but are rarely felt), any volcanoes, or any other sort of strong natural phenomena. Of course we’ve had our fair share of strong winds and thunderstorms, but even then the wind speeds rarely reach gale force. In the last few years things have begun changing though.

I started writing this entry before the events on boxing day. Or the exceptional winter stroms Southern Finland and the rest of the Baltic countries have been experiencing. Lately nature has been reminding us of its power.

I finally found out, from a TV documentary, that the storm we had on August 20, 2004 was an official tornado (in Finnish) according to the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Anna and I were out with Flippe and Kassu at the start of the duck hunting season giving Flippe some practise in real retrieveing. We watched the storm front over the lake, commenting that there’s quite a storm over there (about 15 kilometres from where we where/live).

We had just gotten back to our car when I (and the rest of the Ylämylly fire station) got called in to help clear damage caused by a storm. The intial reports we got were of some trees that had fallen across a road. On the way to the scene we heard radio traffic from other scenes around Lake Höytiäinen. There was talk of hundreds of fully grown pine trees (20 — 30 metres tall) split to pieces or uprooted.

The damage we saw was more than a few trees that had fallen across the road. It was more in the range of hundreds of trees. Luckily, for us, the locals had already begun clearing the trees from the roads and our task was to secure those trees that might have caused further damage to properties or people. The witnesses to the event talked to us of a small tornado (trombi).

In about a week the full extent of the damages was figured out: 1 house destroyed, several cabins and other structures damaged, and 500 hectares of forest (approximately 50 000 — 100 000 cubic metres of wood) destroyed. The human costs were small, only some bruising and such and no deaths. The winds speeds were estimated at 50 m/s, with local gusts of 70 m/s, which makes it a F2 or F3 class tornados on the Fujita scale.

While have had earlier tornados in North Karelia, they have mostly been a phenomena of recent times. The strongest tornado Finland has had was in 1934 with estimated wind speeds of 93 m/s (F4).

I remember the stories my mother has told me of tornados in the Mid-West and the tornado warnings rolling across the bottom of the TV screen when I’ve been at my grandmothers while thunderstorms have raged outside. Finland has always been a safe place to return to.

Even though in retrospect I should have recognized the weather on that August day as something that might cause a tornado, the mental connection between weather and tornados in Illinois didn’t click until much later. It may be a result of the climate change or just randomness that has caused nature to remind Finns of its power more in the last years. I don’t know what the reason is. All I know is that suddenly Finland doesn’t feel as safe as it did from the forces of nature.

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