On a Whirlwind at Bloxworth

Plate A: Effects of Whirlwind at Bloxworth © DCM

Plate A: Effects of Whirlwind at Bloxworth © DCM

Here is an article written by Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge, M.A., F.R.S., &c. from the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 17,  1896 entitled ‘On a Whirlwind at Bloxworth’

Most of us, I suppose, have observed those curious rotatory gusts of wind which in summer-time raise the dust (and even sometimes the gravel) along the roads in a spiral form; sometimes raising the dust high into the air, sometimes running a course of only a few yards, at other times considerably more. I have myself seen one of these traverse a hay field, carrying the hay along in a spiral path and whirling it onwards high in the air, depositing it, as the force of the gust died away, in any place but where the unfortunate owner desired, leaving also a well marked and cleared track of some yards in width behind it.

One of the most interesting, in some senses, of these I witnessed in the month of June last, interesting on account of its small size and perfect development, being a whirlwind in miniature. I was standing on a gravel path close to my house; the path was covered with loose, light, sandy gravel, much mixed with minute particles of dead leaves. A little rustling noise at my feet made me look down, when, with the slightest possible sound, the sand and dead-leaf fragments began to rise and move along the path in a spiral form, rising to about two feet high, increasing in speed and width, until at about four yards’ distance the whole had subsided. The whole performance took no more than two minutes, if as much. The cause of these rotatory winds is not, I believe, known; but whatever it may be, we may fairly, I think, conclude that it is, in degree, the same as the cause of those whirlwinds which are of much greater extent and often do great damage in their course. They are of comparatively rare occurrence in this country, but are sometimes noteworthy as presenting many features in common with those of enormous extent and resulting in great destruction, which occur in tropical regions.

The one on which I propose to offer a few remarks to-day is one of a kind of which we do occasionally hear in this country ; but it has an especial interest in the present instance because its path from beginning to end is so plainly traceable, and its effects not only disastrous but in some points curious. This whirlwind took place just at the culminating point of a strong south-westerly gale, on the 10th of November last (1895). The wind rose rapidly during the day, veering from S. to S.W., and continued to blow heavily with heavy rain all the evening ; the barometer fell during the day very nearly three-fourths of an inch, and reached its lowest point (29 inches) near midnight. At just a quarter of an hour later, above the normal noise of the gale I heard a rushing sound as of many heavy goods trains approaching; it roared by, and in five minutes had quite passed away. The gale itself almost immediately slackened, and in half-an-hour or so all was still and quiet. On going, the next morning, into my orchard, I was little prepared for the scene of devastation that presented itself; half the orchard, comprising an area of 21 acres, was as complete a wreck as a dozen or score of men could have made of it in a week’s work. Almost every tree was uprooted, some lying one way, some another; and looking along the line of destruction, each way, the timber (mostly oak) presented a somewhat similar wreck. Some trees were snapped off at the middle of the trunk, others (and those most numerous) with almost every limb torn off, twisted and hurled about in every direction. As soon as I could I traced the path of the whirlwind, and most satisfactorily marked both its beginning and ending (these are shown on the map which I have drawn to illustrate it).    The whole length of the course is exactly one mile, and its width varies from 60 to 80 yards.

Track of Whirlwind at Bloxworth

Track of Whirlwind at Bloxworth © DCM

It is as nearly as possible a straight course, and its edges are remarkably well defined; though here and there a tree somewhat away from it is destroyed, and there are at places a tree or trees, quite in the track, untouched.     The direction of the track is exactly S.W., no doubt following the general direction of the gale of wind blowing at the moment.    It began (see map, letter A.) by uprooting a large birch tree, breaking off and otherwise mauling a lot of oak trees, but none of large size. Two elms and various oaks were thrown down in its continuance, until it reached a wood of timber and coppice (letter E.), where several oaks of considerable size were uprooted and many  others torn  to  pieces,  leaving a very   well marked path through the wood; thence the track lay through my orchard (letter I).). Here, referring to the plan, you may see that, crossing the orchard in a diagonal direction, the whirlwind laid low just half of it, as well as broke off or tore to pieces several oak trees in the hedge. * The apple trees were all, excepting one or two, cleanly and completely uprooted.    Some of them were lifted and dropped again at distances varying from two to twenty feet, looking much as though plucked up like a cabbage plant and thrown down a little way off.

Plate B: Effects of Whirlwind at Bloxworth © DCM

Plate B: Effects of Whirlwind at Bloxworth © DCM

The trees, with earth and all adhering, thus raised could scarcely weigh less than a ton and a-half or more each; they were not thrown down in one direction, but, like the oaks, lay some in one, some in another. The force of the wind thus appears not only to have come in a spiral form, but to have had also a distinct upward stroke. The rest of the track lay through grass fields, and the trees for the most part were in the hedges.   I have marked in the plan with red spots the sites of the principal trees destroyed.   At the bottom of the orchard a transverse red line marks the position of a large limb broken off and blown from an oak tree at about sixty yards’ distance in the wood below it, and shown in one of the photographs exhibited.   Adverting to the  feta of some trees here and there in the track escaping, I may point to letter C. in the plan, where there were eight or ten large elms, some of them directly in the line ; but not a twig even of any one of them showed signs of the wind, whereas a large one close by in the fence at F. was broken off at the trunk. Occurring in the middle of the night, it was not witnessed by any one ; if it had taken place in the day time it would have been a fine sight, and doubtless a bystander might have stood close to the edge of the track and experienced no inconvenience whatever.

The only previous occurrence of the kind, of which I have myself seen any such effects as I have above described, took place in Bloxworth some 20 or 25 years ago, but although its general character and effects were similar the latter were by no means so traceable, or so disastrous; in this former instance the path of the whirlwind was about two miles in length, the attendant circumstances were also very similar—viz., a very rapid previous fall of the barometer, a gale of wind from S,W., and an immediate dropping of the wind after the blast had gone by. I have represented roughly in the plan, by red spots, the various trees destroyed, the larger spots noting the larger trees; but of course I do not pretend to any exact numerical accuracy. The number of apple trees destroyed, however, is just over 40, and they average from 8 to 15 inches in diameter of the trunk; all were planted by myself just 51 years ago. I may mention here that the photographs I have shown were done by one of our Members, Mr. F. J. Beckford, and kindly given to me for the purpose of  illustrating my account of this whirlwind.

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One thought on “On a Whirlwind at Bloxworth

  1. Pingback: ‘Mock Suns’ as seen from Waterson Ridge, Feb 15th 1909 | Dorset County Museum

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