Reexamining the United Kingdom’s greatest tornado outbreak: Forecasting the limited extent of tornadoes along a cold front

On 23 November 1981, a strong cold front swept across the United Kingdom, producing tornadoes from the west to the east coasts. An extensive campaign to collect tornado reports by the Tornado and Storm Research Organisation (TORRO) resulted in 104 reports, the largest U.K. outbreak on record. The front was simulated with a convection-permitting numerical model down to 200-m horizontal grid spacing to better understand its evolution and meteorological environment. The event was typical of tornadoes in the United Kingdom, with convective available potential energy (CAPE) less than 150 J kg -1, 0–1-km wind shear of 10–20 m s–1, and a narrow cold-frontal rainband forming precipitation cores and gaps. A line of cyclonic absolute vorticity existed along the front, with maxima as large as 0.04 s -1. Some hook-shaped misovortices bore kinematic similarity to supercells. The narrow swath along which the line was tornadic was bounded on the equatorward side by weak vorticity along the line and on the poleward side by zero CAPE, enclosing a region where the environment was otherwise favorable for tornadogenesis. To determine if the 104 tornado reports were plausible, first possible duplicate reports were eliminated, resulting in as few as 58 tornadoes to as many as 90. Second, the number of possible parent misovortices that may have spawned tornadoes is estimated from model output. The number of plausible tornado reports in the 200-m grid-spacing domain was 22 and as many as 44, whereas the model simulation was used to estimate 30 possible parent misovortices within this domain. These results suggest that a number of 90 reports was plausible.

Apsley, M. L., K. J. Mulder, and D. M. Schultz, 2015: Reexamining the United Kingdom’s greatest tornado outbreak: Forecasting the limited extent of tornadoes along a cold front. Wea. Forecasting, 31, 853–875, doi: 10.1175/WAF-D-15-0131.1.