The third tornado

Tornado damage

Three weeks ago, a pair of tornadoes ripped through part of the Algarve and immediately occupied front pages of newspapers and blogs all over the nation.

I think the news missed one. There were three.

While driving to Pilates a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a section of road with a lot of tree damage. It’s on the N270 between Loulé and São Brás de Alportel, just east of the turnoff to Gorjões and Santa Barbara de Nexe.

The first few times I drove past, I thought, “Wow, what happened here?” It looked like a really inept road crew had come through to trim branches, but forgot their power tools. Or it could have been the scene of a truly shocking traffic accident involving at least one very large truck and lots of flying heavy debris…but I think I’d have heard about that.

The next time I passed, I drove slower, realized just how extensive the damage was, and developed a strong suspicion as to what had caused it. Today I decided it was time for a closer look. On my way back from class, I pulled off the road and did a walking survey.

For a couple of hundred meters of highway, the trees on both sides of the road are heavily, messily damaged. Huge branches have been torn off, leaving massive white scars and splintered trunks behind. Several trees were snapped completely in half, and we’re talking older fruit trees with substantial trunks. Branches are down everywhere, and there isn’t a clean cut in the place. Every bit of damage looks like a giant hand grabbed the branch or tree and twisted until it ripped and splintered apart.

There is only one thing I can think of that could cause this kind of damage pattern: wind. And not just a sudden, strong gust of wind, either, because that would have manifested in some directional clues.

This mess looks exactly like a small tornado touched down, moved a few hundred meters, and then dissipated before it could travel any farther. Since it was in an area without houses or human construction other than the highway, it didn’t get any attention and probably had no witnesses. But the evidence it left behind is fairly conclusive.

Which makes me wonder: How many others were there? That Friday was a day-long thunderstorm event, with strong squalls moving over in regular succession. If they spun off small tornadoes that ripped up trees in unpopulated areas, nobody will ever hear about them other than the people who live or farm nearby and happen to walk through the damaged spots.

I think I’ll be taking Algarvean thunderstorms a bit more seriously these days.

(The above photo is of tornado damage in Lagoa, from the Algarve Resident. I didn’t have my camera with me today, but that kind of splintery mess is what the trees on the N270 look like.)


TOTALLY UNRELATED NOTE: On a whim, I entered this blog in a competition for Best Expat Blog in Portugal, a contest judged partly by content and partly by reader reviews. Since the other blogs in the competition didn’t have much in the way of reviews, I just asked a few of my regular commenters to participate.

But now there are suddenly more blogs involved, and they’ve been advertising, and have gotten far more reviews. It’s time to up the game!

If you’d like to leave a kind word, please check out my page on the Expats Blog. The winners will be announced tomorrow, so I’ve only got until 10:00 GMT on 7 December to get more reviews up. Thanks in advance for any blog love.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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17 Responses to The third tornado

  1. Lilaine says:

    Let’s rip a fourth-and constructive, this once-tornado through the Expats Blog’s Contest !! 😉
    They say :
    “Fan commenting for any blogs will be disabled for just 24 hours as of 10:00 GMT on the day of their country announcement”
    and if the announcement is tomorrow for Portugal blogs, then just make your keyboards smoke, everybody! ^^ 😀

  2. Malkor says:

    The exact same thing happened to me six month ago. Damage to trees like I had never seen before, complete with 10cm of hail on the road. While I also thought of a tornado at first, I later learned from Skywarn’s many spotters and chasers who had a close eye on the supercell responsible that it was not a tornado that had caused such extensive damage. Long story short: It was a downburst that uprooted trees and traffic signs complete with their concrete feet.

    • oregon expat says:

      Your comment sent me into research mode — fascinating! Yes, the damage could have been from a microburst, which is a short-lived but very intense type of downburst. According to this informative NOAA page: “Despite their small size, microbursts can produce destructive winds up to 168 mph (270 km/h).”

      Zowie. Yes, that would do it — a very localized, intense burst of high winds blowing downward and outward. Which only reinforces my earlier conclusion: I’m taking Algarvean thunderstorms a lot more seriously from now on.

  3. xenatuba says:

    I was gonna call microburst, too. I supervised a shift during one in 2002 in Eugene; about 35 minutes of storm left most of Lane County reeling. The personal touch: There was an Oregon vs. Stanford women’s basketball game that night that was played. My mother-in-law drove up from Ashland to Eugene in a Ford Festiva, and she and my wife went to the game. (MiL noticed that “some traffic lights were out”…yeah, that and about 100 downed trees and 30 damaged homes) I finally got a chance to call at about 2200, and was told “all is well.” When I got home (at midnight) I discovered a cedar tree had fallen, missing our roof by inches, and was about 8 feet away from where they had sat, putting a puzzle together. Your damage sounds very microburst like: Not very micro, but very bursty.

    • oregon expat says:

      I remember that storm! My parents got a new roof out of it, when the inch-diameter hailstones trashed their old cedar shingles. I was coming home from work and thinking (silly me) that I’d drive up to a lookout to get a good view of the awesome sky. It was awesome indeed — I saw the hail coming, watched the first few smash to the ground at my feet, and thought, “What the — someone’s throwing snowballs??” Then my brain kicked in and I dove back into my car, to spend the next few minutes unable to hear myself think and feeling certain that my car was going to look like a golf ball when it was all over.

      But…that was not a microburst, at least not as defined by the NOAA page. Microbursts are characterized by having a very small impact area, and that storm damaged a pretty large area.

      Did your wife and MiL notice the tree crashing almost on their heads?

      • Karyn says:

        I would submit that we were not home at the time the tree crashed down–we were at a fabulous UO Women’s basketball game. I would additionally submit that since the roof wasn’t caved in and windows weren’t broken, that, in fact, everything was fine. (Never mind that we did not notice the fallen tree or the fact that the hot tub cover had blown off, too–it was a DARK and stormy night.) It’s amazing how fine things can be if you don’t look around. 🙂

  4. xenatuba says:

    And you gotta tell me how to disguise my IP address…apparently SOMEONE beat me to the punch, and I can’t vote for your blog.

    • Lilaine says:

      Maybe if you switch off your DSL router long enough (say, half an hour), you’ll get a new IP address when you switch on again. That is, if your ISP doesn’t attribute static IP addresses…

  5. Joanna says:

    I left a review and waited for it to show up. After many hours when new ones appeared and mine didn’t I tried it again and was informed it is probably awaiting moderation. I checked again today and the reviews are closed for now. My comment is not there. And then it hit me that the reason I could not post was because my most beloved husband posted minutes before me from the same IP address. Aargh!
    It is unfortunate that their rules pretty much eliminate the option of two people voting from the same household. But we both love your blog! This is not fair, is what I’m saying 🙂

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