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The Horsham tornado and hailstorm 5th September 1958


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Next Friday is the 50th anniversary of this most famous of storms, the subject of Browning and Ludlum's paper that was a major piece of research in identifying what we now know as supecell thunderstorms.

The storm itself was described at the time as "frightening" as well it might have been, as it produced 2 tornados and record breaking hailstones that are still the largest ever recorded in the UK. Does anyone out there remember it and could they please share their memories? Did anyone experience flooding or damage connected with the storm? I have been told that local brewery King & Barnes lost their supply of hops as a result and had some real problems. Is anyone able to verify this please?

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  • Location: Maidstone, Kent
  • Location: Maidstone, Kent

The storm developed over the Isle of Wight, but intensified a lot close to West Wittering, West Sussex, and travelled northeastwards, affecting Horsham around 6.30pm in the evening. The storm produced a tornado, which also damaged a hangar at Gatwick Airport. The storm died later in the evening close to Maldon, Essex.

The hail measured H6-H7 on TORRO's hail scale, meaning that the hail was 40-70mm in diameter which can cause severe damage to buildings and vehicles, especially roofs, and injuries to people. The actual storm smashed windows, dented cars, broke roof tiles and killed vegetation.

To compare the hail size to an everyday object, the hail was roughly somewhere in between the size of a Hen's egg and a Cricket ball. One hailstone measured 191g!

Some reports of the damage:

The main Brighton line was completely blocked by a fall of chalk between Coulsdon North and Earlswood. Trains were diverted via Redhill, but were further delayed by a fallen tree on the line near Horley. Southend-on-Sea was cut off by rail from London.

A spokesman of the Met Office at the Air Ministry said that at 7 p.m. a gust of 80 miles an hour was recorded in "a minor tornado" at Gatwick.

A spokesman for the General Post Office said that reports of widespread damage to telephone cables had come in from all parts of London.

Two fuel oil storage tanks at Kent Oil Refinery, Isle of Grain, were struck by lightning and burst into flames.

7,000 consumers in the Petworth area were without electricity.

3,000 lightning strikes were 'counted' during the storm as it passed over London.

Edited by maidstone weather
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