Berg waterspout wonder

2007-12-07 00:00

Guests at the Sani Pass Lodge ran for their lives, and cameras, on Wednesday afternoon when a massive waterspout twister materialised on a dam at the Lodge.

Lodge manager Stuart McLean told The Witness that the single cell tornado was a spectacular sight.

“At about 3.30 pm our ranger Lungelo Mkhize came running to me to ask if I had seen the tornado”

He said the funnel extended from the 106-hectare trout dam almost a kilometre up into the sky and that the wall of water it sucked up was about 70 metres wide in some places.

“It moved in a north-east direction towards the boat house and some of the lodges, and I thought they would be wrecked.” But the twister dissipated before it made landfall, much to McLean’s relief.

“It came pretty much out of the blue. It was cloudy but wasn’t raining at the time.”

He said that the sight was witnessed by guests on the deck at the lodge, many of whom took photos of the phenomenon.

“There were some guests near the boathouse and when they saw it was coming towards them, they ran away, looking over their shoulders all the time.”

He said there were some nerve-wracking moments, but that it was an amazing sight to see.

Asked if any trout were found on dry land following the incident, McLean chuckled and said that the area around the dam is very marshy and he had not been to check.

The Witness “weatherman”, retired meteorologist Mike Laing, said that waterspouts are the weaker cousins of tornados and both are spawned, in special circumstances, beneath large thunderstorms.

“The tornado or waterspout funnel, linking the base of the thundercloud (cumulonimbus) to the land surface, is a narrow vortex of low pressure where very strong winds rotate — even reaching over 300 km/h in extreme storms.

“The visible funnel is a mixture of whirling raindrops and sometimes hailstones, mixed with condensed water vapour. In the case of a waterspout, water is drawn up into the base of the funnel when the vortex moves across open water — such as the open sea, a lake or a dam.”

Tornados (and waterspouts) are most frequent over the eastern half of South Africa and more especially in a region stretching from Gauteng southward into the eastern parts of the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal.

The vortex is seldom wider than 300 metres and may move along a path length of a few kilometres before the vortex collapses.

Laing said they are most frequent during the afternoon when high temperatures trigger large thunderstorms, during the summer months from October to January.

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