A Tornado Devastates London?!

A Brief History

On October 17, 1091, a tornado with a strength thought to be about T8/F4, which means a severely devastating tornado with winds over 200 miles per hour, struck the heart of London, England.

Digging Deeper

When Americans think of tornadoes, they tend to envision twisters striking mostly flat ground in the American mid-west or accompanying Atlantic hurricanes.  We do not generally imagine tornadoes wrecking havoc on major capital cities of medieval kingdoms.  Nevertheless, on October 17, 1091, one such twister did just that!

The London Tornado of 1091 is Britain’s earliest reported tornado.  Although nowhere near as devastating as some of the more recent twisters that practically obliterated some neighborhoods in American cities, this medieval tornado still managed to kill two, leveled hundreds of houses, demolished  the wooden London bridge, and seriously damaged the church of St. Mary-le-Bow, driving four rafters into the ground with only a small fraction of the rafters still protruding above the surface of the ground.

The disaster occurred during the reign of William II the Red and was one of many hardships this particular king faced, but some of those we shall save for another day!

Historical Evidence

For more information on this and other tornadoes in Medieval England, see M.W. Rowe, “Tornadoes in medieval Britain,” Journal of Meteorology 1.7 (1976): 219–222.  For an artist’s rendition of this particular twister, see also this online source.  You may note that some sources note the tornado as occurring on October 23, rather than October 17; however, most seem to go with October 17, which is what I am going with here.

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history at multiple universities.

  • Dan Heidenreich

    This event is very intriguing seeing how it is the first reported tornado in history. I personally believe that the most interesting and devastating natural disaster was the black plague. The shear number of people this killed and how rapidly it spread is crazy to think about in today’s world. If something like that were to happen in this day in age (which I believe is very likely) it would be absolute chaos. I watched a documentary titled Apocalypse Now and it counted down the 10 ways that the world could end and a worldwide disease was on there among others such as robots taking over (personal favorite).

  • Anthony Jones

    I wonder what everyone’s thought was when they saw the first tornado. Most people still now are terrified of them, just imagine having no clue what’s going on and suddenly seeing one of those beasts tearing through your town or city.

  • Madison Ertle

    I could only imagine what it would be like to see one of those for the first time!

  • rhammel

    Tornadoes are scary, I can’t imagine not knowing what to expect.

  • AB

    That’s kind of scary

  • Nate haller

    I’m shocked it didn’t kill more people only two wow. But seeing that back then I wouldn’t know what to do I say the end of the world

  • N Beauchemin

    I would imagine this kind of rare weather event in England would have had a supernatural connotation. Isn’t an F5 nicknamed gods finger?

  • MMA

    I honestly think tornadoes are interesting weather condition, they are very terrifying and devastating, but they are just intriguing. However if I have never seen one and did not know precautions to take I would honestly think the world was coming to an end. I would love to know what everyone was thinking while this was all happening, I am really impressed that many more people did not die.

  • Meg Arrendale

    This sounds awful. I have never, thank goodness, been in an instance where a tornado struck but I have seen photos and have heard stories of the destruction they cause. I am shocked only that many were killed.

  • Sarah Shaheen

    This is kind of scary..

  • LHW

    History with a twist nice!

  • Erin R

    This is the first time I’ve ever heard of this. Not one of the more popular natural disasters in history,but I’m sure it was frightening for the people involved.

  • APG

    It’s really scary to think that back then there was practically nothing you could do to avoid a tornado besides just being lucky it didn’t happen to have its path go through you. Its also scary how, unlike today with tornado warnings and accurate weather predictions, you wouldn’t know a tornado was coming until you saw it.

  • Tevin Knerr

    You hardly hear of natural disasters such as tornadoes going on back then! This was interesting but i’m sure extremely devastating, 200mph winds!!

  • Christian Creamer

    I thought only America got tornadoes, I stand corrected. Technology back in those times did not predict the weather, scary to know you were blind to the forecast .

  • Alec Ginther

    Very interesting to think about how people would have reacted to interesting weather occurrences.