1913 was a turbulent year of weather in the British Isles. A gale in southern England on March 22 partially destroyed Worthing pier. On May 9, rain fell continuously for 36 hours at Crathes, during which time over 4 inches was recorded. On September 15, an 'extraordinary hailstorm' lasting about 20 minutes visited Oundle. Stones lay 9 inches deep. On the same day a waterspout was seen on the Towy River. Three waterspouts were seen at Claypole during a heavy rainstorm on October 5.
On May 9, a tornado did considerable damage to trees near Crosshaven, County Cork, Ireland. “Like the tornadoes of the United States it was preceded by remarkable noises, the affected area consisting of a narrow path a few miles long.”
North Atlantic Ocean, 6 p.m., 27th October, 1913
A depression, central pressure 28.8 inches, was centred at 50° N., 20° W., about 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. The weather around the disturbance was unsettled, and the temperature 'distinctly above average for the time of year.'
Near Exeter, Devon, about 4 p.m., 27th October, 1913
W. A. Willock left Exeter to drive to Ottery St. Mary on the afternoon of a fine day with a few light showers. About 3 miles outside Exeter, he saw a very black cloud, with heavy rain falling from it, coming up from the south-east. A few minutes later, the cloud passed over his car, and “I do not think I ever saw such rain out of the tropics. The lightning was very vivid and close.”
Collumpton, Devon, 4.05 p.m., 27th October, 1913
After an overcast, warm day heavy clouds came up from the south-west. The wind freshened, and at 4 o'clock a thunderstorm began. Then “a perfect deluge of rain fell, followed at once by a terrific hailstorm, such as the oldest inhabitant never remembered having seen”. The storm lasted 10 minutes.
Edwardsville, Glamorganshire, South Wales, 4.30 p.m., 27th October, 1913
B. P. Evans, the headmaster of a boys' school in Treharris, was observing the weather from his house “Arfryn', in Edwardsville. At 4.30 p.m. the sky was 'troubled', with dark masses of cumulus clouds in the south. There was a gentle breeze from south by east, which became southerly by 5 p.m., and a dead calm at 5.15 p.m. As the twilight deepened, the sky to the south looked dark and sullen. The calm lasted about half an hour. The atmosphere became oppressive. Mr. Evans felt 'a sense of great uneasiness' and thought that rain might ease the tenseness.
The rain began at 5.20 p.m. Five minutes later a flash of red lightning darted from a cloudbank in the south. The rain stopped after ten minutes, but the lightning continued. The red flashes were followed by blue ones at frequent intervals, although there was little thunder. “The blue lightning was appalling,” Mr. Evans reported, “...there seemed to be three or four interweaving flashes, all of a deep blue, and, what was strange, the waves of blue fire seemed to be rolling on the ground.”
Just before 5.50 p.m., a strange sound was heard, which rapidly grew louder. Mr. Evans compared it to “the rushing speed of many road lorries racing along.” The heat and oppressiveness at once increased. Someone remarked that the supposed lorries must have collided before the house, and their engines were about to burst. Mr. Evans and his companions took refuge in a passage, just in time. The window-panes were broken by a hail of stones, tiles, slates and splintered timber, and the debris smashed through the Venetian blinds and struck the opposite wall. Mr. Evans made for the rear of “Arfryn', but that was also being assaulted by fragments and sheets of corrugated iron. He heard the chimney-pots give way and dash themselves on the pavement. The kitchen clock stopped at 5.51 p.m. After only a minute or so, the crashing ceased, and rain fell in torrents. Outside, lightning had set fire to the tar of the main road, and there was a strong smell of sulphur.
Creigan Station, Glamorganshire, Wales, about 5.23 p.m., 27th October, 1913
W. M. Morris was travelling in a train to Cardiff through the thunderstorm when he saw “a ball of fire...flashing along with a blinding sheet of lightning, and travelling from South to North. I remarked to others about the thunderbolt, and that great damage would be done somewhere by it.”
Shropshire, about 7.35 p.m., 27th October, 1913
A storm about 400 yards wide did great damage to houses and trees along a track about 12 miles long. It began at Ragdon, where a piece of corrugated iron was carried half a mile, and ended at Lower Wood. The storm left another short track at Shrewsbury.
Cheshire, about 8.30 p.m., 27th October, 1913
Heavy rain and vivid lightning preceded and accompanied a storm which did immense damage in the space of four minutes along a track 150 yards wide.The lightning was 'prismatic' and 'ran about over the ground'. No-one saw the storm. The few people who heard it described a sound like 'hundreds of motor-cars crashing through the trees.’
The Congregational Chapel at Treharris after the tornado
On October 28, 1913, The Times reported that on the previous day, a severe thunderstorm in the Rhymney Valley flooded low-lying streets and caused much damage. A thunderstorm with large hailstones was also reported from the Tiverton district.
Next day, the Times had a more extensive report.
THE STORM IN WALES
LOSS OF LIFE AND GREAT DAMAGE
The storm, the Times said, was “apparently cyclonic in character” and “much more disastrous in its effects than was first realised”. At least two people had been killed. A. Woolford, a member of the Ton Pentre Football Club, had been walking with Walter Breeze, his trainer, when they were 'caught by the wind’ and blown (or carried) a distance of 300 yards. Woolford fell on his head and Breeze fractured two ribs.
A body found in a field near Abercynon was identified as that of Thomas Llewellyn Harries, a collier. He had been apparently been carried 300 or 400 yards by 'the force of the gale'.
The infant daughter of John Jones, at Cilfynydd, was woken by the noise of the approaching storm, and he took her downstairs, just before the roof collapsed and buried the child's bed.
All along the Taff Valley, from Treforest to Treharris, “wrecked structures and up-rooted trees mark the path of the storm”, a path only about 200 yards wide. It rushed through the valley of Cilfynydd with a roar that one resident described as 'like a train in the Severn Tunnel'. Most of the chapels and churches in this area were badly damaged, and all the schools had to be closed. At Fairview-Terrace in Abercynon, 60 houses had their roofs torn off and many buildings were completely wrecked.
The storm in Cheshire destroyed Lord Tollemache's extensive greenhouses at Peckforton Castle, while on the hill opposite hundreds of trees were uprooted. “According to most accounts the storm lasted two or three minutes only.”
Mr. William Blake’s bungalow at Abercynon, where three people were injured
Mr. H. Billet of the Meteorological Office, at the request of the M.P. for East Glamorganshire, Clement Edwards, was sent to the region visited by the storm and spent three days in South Wales collecting information. His report was published in September 1914 as a Geophysical Memoir.
Mr. Billet concluded that the storm was “a genuine tornado of the type common enough in parts of America, but fortunately of rare occurrence in this country.” Darkness had been falling when the tornado struck, and apparently only one person had actually seen it. Dan Williams, of Treharris, observed “a dark cloud extending from sky to earth and suggesting to him a huge waterspout.”
Mr. Billet remarked that tornadoes, “though rare in this country, are by no means unknown.” Symons's Meteorological Magazine recorded 40 instances between 1866 to 1895.
Furniture being removed from a wrecked house at Treharris
A violent thunderstorm was experienced at Aberthaw, on the coast of South Wales, and the first recorded damage was at Dyffryn Dowlais, about 12 miles north. From there, the tornado, travelling at 36 miles an hour, cut a well-defined track, nowhere more than 1,000 feet wide, slightly east of north up the Taff Valley by Llantwit Fardre, Treforest, Pontypridd, Cilfynnydd, Abercynon, Edwardsville and Bedlinog. At Dyffryn Dowlais the track was only 50 yards wide, but it had widened to over 300 yards at Edwardsville. The tornado was accompanied by vivid lightning and torrential rain, and reached maximum intensity at at Edwardsville, where five people were killed. Here, the tornado wrecked a Congregational Chapel, piling up the pews within against the west wall. Fragments of slate were driven over an inch deep across the grain of fallen trees. A man was carried 30 yards and killed, and a small boy was buried under a falling wall.
There were signs of a second tornado. This was about 100 yards wide; it headed toward the major tornado at an angle of 45°, and apparently merged with it at Treforest.
Violent thunderstorms occurred at Talybont-on-Usk, about 15 miles north of where the tornado damage track ceased, and at Hay in Herefordshire, 25 miles north. The tornado funnel may have been aloft at this time. It touched down again, or a new funnel formed, 50 miles north near Ragdon in Shropshire, doing great damage, before lifting and touching down again for a short time near Shrewsbury, a total length of about 12 miles.
During heavy rain, the tornado (or another new funnel) touched down again at Wem, 10 miles north of Shrewsbury, did considerable damage, then lifted for 7 miles. Then there was another touchdown at Peckforton Moss in Cheshire. A farmhouse was left undamaged while all the trees and buildings on both sides were destroyed. About half a mile further on the two tracks joined into a single path 150 yards wide. Within this path, which cut through heavily wooded country, hardly a tree survived; they were uprooted, debranched, had their tops twisted off and were carried through the air. Several cows were lifted over a hedge and dropped into the next field. Three were killed, and the branches of fallen trees were festooned with dead hens.
The tornado passed about 500 yards to the west of Peckforton Castle. No-one at the Castle heard or knew anything until next morning, when they discovered that the nearly new greenhouses and vineries in the gardens had been swept away. Fragments of glass were found two miles distant.
The tornado passed into Lancashire near Runcorn, where a grandstand roof was blown off. There were no other reports of damage, but thunderstorms occurred as far north as Blackpool.
Witcombe Park, Gloucester, about 5.20 p.m., 28th October, 1913
The day after the storm in Wales, a 'small cyclone', about 150 yards in diameter, felled many trees during a thunderstorm. The sky during the three minutes of the 'cyclone' was “a thick mass of whirling leaves, and the sky was yellow.”