WEATHER NEWS: Rare, powerful thunderstorms bring severe winds to Europe, killing multiple
A massive storm complex has traveled a nearly 1,000-mile path across Europe, reportedly killing numerous people and causing devastation on the French island of Corsica and to landmarks in Venice, before moving on to inflict major wind damage in parts of Austria and Slovakia.
According to the Associated Press, at least five people in France and two in Italy were killed by the wicked storm complex. Some experts believe the storm complex may qualify as a derecho, a particularly damaging, widespread and long-lived wind storm. Two children reportedly were killed by the same long-tracked storm complex in Austria.
The storm complex was moving exceptionally fast, enhancing its wind risk. The intense line of storms hit the Corsican capital of Ajaccio on the southwest coast at 8:15 a.m. local time on Thursday, then reached Cap Corse on the northeast tip around 9:15 a.m., according to Meteociel. That is a forward speed of roughly 70 mph.
Preliminary reports of wind gusts in Corsica include: 140 mph (225 km/h) in Marignana, 128 mph (206 km/h) in L’Île-Rousse, 122 mph (197 km/h) at Calvi, and 116 mph (188 km/h) in Bocognano, among others.
Dramatic video from Corsica’s Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport shows the extreme destruction that 136-mph wind gusts, equivalent to the force of a Category 4 hurricane, can cause. The winds damaged an Airbus A319, a commercial jet that can hold up to 156 passengers, with one of its wingtips bent over by the storm, according to reporting from Airlive.
At least five people were killed in and around the French island during the storm, according to the AP: a 13-year-old girl and a 46-year-old man were killed at two campsites; a 72-year-old woman died when a roof collapsed onto her vehicle; and two people died at sea — a kayaker and a 62-year-old fisherman, whose bodies washed ashore after the storm.
Several others were injured, and at least a dozen people were hospitalized in Corsica, according to the report. The high winds also left 45,o00 people without power.
Further on the system’s path, two people were reported killed in the Italian province of Tuscany when trees were ripped out of the ground, while several others were injured by falling trees at a campground. In Venice, the rowdy winds tossed tables and chairs like toys in the popular St. Mark’s Square, and pieces of brick were ripped straight off St. Mark’s bell tower, the tallest structure in the city.
In Piombino, Italy, a dramatic video of the storm shows a Ferris wheel spinning rapidly in the storm, with the wheel’s carriages jostling out of control as the howling winds took over the wheel’s operations. According to the AP, hailstones the size of walnuts caused substantial damage in the Liguria region of Italy, busting windows and damaging farmlands that had already been scorched by drought.
The storm continued to bring intense lightning and strong winds even after ripping through parts of Northern Italy. A video from Kranj, Slovenia, shows intense winds ripping off the roof of what appears to be a large apartment complex, damaging cars parked below.
In Austria, another astonishing video shows high-voltage power masts bent in half. According to reporting from Austrian broadcaster ORF, at least 65,000 people in Styria, a province in the heart of Austria, lost power during the storm, which brought wind gusts of at least 139 km/h (86 mph).
Elsewhere in Austria, at least two children were killed in the Carinthia region after strong winds toppled trees near a busy lake.
The storm’s peak winds were seemingly on par with some of the highest ever recorded outside the mountains in Europe. Such strong wind gusts in widespread fashion are uncommon during summer in the region. A majority of the widespread wind damage events occur in the fall through spring, typically coming from strong mid-latitude storm systems dancing along the jet stream.
Some speculate that the storm may meet the requirements of a derecho — a widespread and long-lived windstorm at least 60 miles wide that leaves 400 miles of damage. Even then, a complex of storms must have wind gusts of at least 58 mph across most of its length, with several gusts of at least 75 mph, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.
About one major derecho forms over Europe annually, or several on a small scale. Per research by European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL) scientists, most of these convective wind storms have a much smaller and less intense footprint than the swath that occurred Thursday. The location and directional movement also appear to be somewhat uncommon.
It is reminiscent of a derecho that struck Germany, including Berlin, in July 2002. That storm complex was responsible for eight deaths and 50 injuries.
Authors of a study on that derecho found that “severe convection can attain a size and intensity comparable to that in the United States.”