Waimate tornado and gustnado south of Christchurch

Looking at weather models I could see potential for thunderstorms on this day 4 days before it happened but unfortunately I was rostered to work and I couldn’t do anything about it! I would’ve headed south and possibly encountered this tornado that happened in Waimate but what can you do! Still tried my best though and finished work as soon as I could to go out chasing as the front hit just south of Christchurch around 5.30pm.

We didn’t get a tornado where we were chasing but we did get a vortex type feature called a gustnado. A gustnado isn’t formed by the same principles as a a regular tornado, they have more in common with whirly whirlies but just on a massive scale typically forming on the gust front of thunderstorms. I happened to be videoing in the right place at the right time and you can see this thing form and grow then blow apart, it was rather short loved but am rather pleased with it. The video definitely gives a better idea of it with the footage speed increased.

Here’s a comparison shot Steve took showing it forming and then when it’s got a bit bigger.

After this gust front moved through we headed south for a bit but it just seemed like all we got was rain and nothing more so we started to head back home. As we thought it might be over we went to KFC to get a twister combo each in Hornby, then as we were sitting in the restaurant we saw a flash to the south so we were off again around 7pm as a new cell moved up. The twister combo proved to work it’s magic once again! Me and Steve continued to chase for the next hour or so before going home, we videoed some lightning and the skies at times did look threatening. Steven Graham took a photo of the approaching gust front in Templeton and then went out later around 8pm and got a few lightning photos from inside his car which are pretty cool. I tried around 8pm aswell but had no luck, it was hard with still a fair bit of ambient light about and lightning being not frequent, also areas of rain.

Still the main event of the day was the tornado in Waimate of course, I believe it was about 1 or 2pm in the afternoon. Li’s were showing to be around -4 to -5 which is big figures for New Zealand, cape a little more modest around 550 but models have a bit more of a hard time dealing with New Zealand conditions due to it’s narrow land mass but they are getting better. Golf ball sized hail looks to of fallen this day aswell, this cloud system appears to of been a low toped supercell similar to it’s American cousins. A lady by the name of Laura Chamberlain got some magnificent photos of it, here they are courtesy of Steven Williams.

Here’s an article which appeared on stuff.co.nz about the Tornado, a bit long but thought it was informative:

March 8, 2006
Stuff.co.nz – Wellington, New Zealand

A brutal twister left a family of five homeless as it carved a destructive 1.6km path through rural properties south-east of Waimate, in South Canterbury, yesterday afternoon.

The tornado ripped the heart out of a 23-room historic property, uplifted mature trees and sent farm animals flying. “It was exactly like that Twister movie,” said Waimate resident Laura Chamberlain. “It probably took about 40 seconds from the time it started coming out of the clouds to the time it hit the ground. “It kept coming further and further towards the ground, then it touched the ground and started sucking everything up – grain silo, sheep. They got sucked up and spat out.”

The historic Downlands homestead destroyed by the tornado was rented from Charles and Dorothy Ruddenklau by the Fahey family of five. Denise Fahey had left the two-storey property just 15 minutes before the 40m-wide twister carved off most of the top floor and stripped bare a tall douglas fir before crossing farmland and carting a boat more than 50m. Before it hit the Ruddenklau property, the tornado shredded two implement sheds owned by Lester and Francis Paul, who live 1km from Downlands.

Chamberlain had found a shaken black kune kune pig that had been sucked into the tornado and lifted across to another paddock. “I was out having a look, standing out on the side of the road asking a guy if he needed a hand,” she said. “He said, `My sheep are dead and I’ve lost my pig’. The next minute, I could hear the pig oinking. He was stuck in a tree and came out from under it. It was unreal, totally unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

No-one was injured in the freak wind, but police believe if anyone had been in the two-storey house they would have been sucked out as though they were tissue paper. The homeless family members – too distressed last night to talk – are staying with friends, and a big community effort has begun. Francis Paul said she heard a call on the radio-telephone before the twister hit. A voice said: “Have you got thunder? I think it’s coming your way.” There were a few spots of rain, then hail the size of golf balls, and finally a ghastly noise. Paul said she picked up her two-year-old granddaughter, Emma, as dust and debris began to fly. She tried to ring neighbours, but the power was off. She managed to reach her husband on a cellphone. As she spoke, sheep and calves ran towards fences. “I thought they would run through the fences. I can’t describe it. There was a boom. I can’t describe it,” she said. The twister, slanting in from the north-east, toppled a silo and shore off fence posts as it pushed flying tin against them. Then it crossed paddocks, dumping debris, knocked the centre out of a stand of macrocarpas and headed for Downlands, built in 1868. It sucked the roof off, exposing upstairs rooms and vacuuming their contents. It flattened foliage around the house and took all the branches off a tall douglas fir. Charles Ruddenklau said the future of Downlands was not known but he was grateful the family renting it was away when the vicious wind struck. He said the house had been his family since the 1900s. Ruddenklau said the tornado twisted off tall chimneys in its path. “I can’t get my head around it. If it had been a fire, yes, but this family (renting the property) is devastated,” Ruddenklau said.

Sergeant Mike van der Heyden, of the Waimate police, said the close-knit Waimate community was working overtime to look after the displaced family and to protect the homestead. The local Rotary club was guarding the property and fire volunteers had taken out and stored the family’s furniture. Waimate resident Steve McGirr said he saw whispy white cloud against a black background before the twister formed. He said the whispy cloud kept turning over and growing in size. “And then I realised it was a twister. It got fatter and suddenly, whoomph, it went orange from bottom to top. That must have been when it touched down. I thought it was out near Morven, but it was just here ( south of Waimate),” he said. McGirr said he was so worried he called the school to warn it of the tornado. “I was scared,” he said.

Waimate District Council building inspector Greg Adams said he was working near Waimate when he saw lightning and dust forming in the air. “I got my phone out to take a picture. I must have been 4km or 5km away when I saw it,” he said. “It sounded like continual thunder, and then I felt this pressure. It must have been the air pressure. I could feel it in my head. It was pressure building up. And then it disappeared,” he said.

Waimate Mayor John Coles said there were initial reports that more twisters might follow, but that did not happen. He said the local civil defence operation worked perfectly, and he praised the efforts of all who had made offers of help.

Long-time residents said this was the first tornado to hit the area. On March 10 last year, a tornado tore through Greymouth, leaving buildings wrecked, power cut and stunned residents in tears.