A funnel cloud that hovered threateningly over Howick, near Pietermaritzburg, KZN, on Tuesday afternoon put residents in a spin, but fortunately it did not make landfall.
Julius Mahlangu of the SA Weather Service, who saw some of the photographs submitted to The Witness, said this was “definitely a funnel cloud and not a tornado”, as it would only be classified as a tornado once it strikes the ground.
“Depending on the destruction it causes when it reaches the ground it would determine at which level or category the tornado is,” he said. There are five categories depending on the level of destruction and the distance it covers.
He said a funnel cloud forms when wind rotates around a thunderstorm.
Amber Valley resident, Norma McHattie who sent The Witness some photographs of the cloud she saw said “it was quite frightening”.
She said she had heard a continuous threatening rumbling sound that she initially thought was caused by graders working nearby, but going outside she saw the huge black cloud above her creating an eerie and threatening atmosphere. There was no lightning accompanying it, she said.
Her son-in-law Jonathan Marshall who lives at Sakebula estate later sent her a photograph of the spiral at the end of the funnel cloud.
McHattie said she took the photographs at 3.18 pm.
Some houses at the Ambers had tiles blown off during the afternoon storm, she added.
However Mahlangu said that roofs of houses can be blown off and tiles lost in a normal storm accompanied by high wind. “This would not classify it as a tornado,”he said.
Meanwhile, in Edendale later that afternoon residents speculated that a mini tornado might have resulted in an eight-roomed house losing its roof and ceilings.
“The sky went dark, then there was a rumble but there was no lightning. I just saw a black cloud spinning very fast coming our way. It was like those tornadoes we always see on TV but scarier because it was so up close,” said Jesta Nkomo from Edendale.
The eight-roomed rental property that she lives in had its roof blown off during Tuesday’s freak storm. The ceiling boards also collapsed due to the pressure from the rain and hail. The tenants were left with damaged appliances as well as drenched furniture and clothes when it cleared up less than 20 minutes later.
“I started crying uncontrollably when it passed because I was so happy that we didn’t die and no one was injured but also I’ve never been that scared in my life and my body needed to release that in some way,” said Nkomo.
Owner of the property, France Gqada said he was also grateful that none of the tenants got hurt when the roof blew off.
“It makes no sense to me how this house became the only in the entire area that was hit.”
The house was renovated in 2015 where Gqada redid the entire roof, wiring and ceiling boards.
Residents around Pietermaritzburg also reported hearing the unusual continuous rumbling thunder before the storm.