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North west France tornado: around 40 such phenomena a year in country

No-one was hurt in Sunday’s tornado in Mayenne unlike one in 2008 which left three dead and over 180 families homeless

A tornado developed in north-western France on Sunday, damaging property but with no one hurt Pic: Météo Mayenne

The intensity and trajectory of a tornado that hit north-west France on Sunday (September 17) afternoon is being studied. A private body that monitors such weather phenomena reports around 40-50 such events in France each year, some of which have proved fatal.

The tornado developed between 17:30 and 17:45 between the communes of Saint-Pierre-des-Landes and Ernée in the Mayenne department in the Pays de la Loire region.

Keraunos, a tornado and storms observatory (private company), said it had mainly damaged “agricultural buildings” and “the roofs of two residential buildings”.

It only lasted a few seconds and no one was hurt but Keraunos has opened an inquiry to determine the trajectory and intensity of it.

Read more: Photos: giant hail, floods, a tornado in Normandy as storms hit France

Tornadoes are thought to be rare in Europe, with sightings more common in central regions of the US (so-called ‘Tornado Alley’). However, they are more common than you might think with Keraunos estimating that there are between 40 and 50 in France every year. Most of them cause little damage and are classified as EF 0 or EF 1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, a rating used to classify tornadoes since 2007. 


Wind speed


Damage description

EF 0

105 - 137km/h

Light damage

  • Some tiles from roofs lost
  • Damage to drainpipes and chimneys
  • Branches broken and trees with shallow roots uprooted

EF 1

138 - 178km/h

Moderate damage

  • Tiles completely blown from roofs
  • Mobile homes overturned or damaged
  • Exterior doors blown away and glass windows shattered

EF 2

179 - 218km/h

Considerable damage

  • Roofs blown off well-built homes
  • Mobile homes completely destroyed
  • Large trees broken or uprooted
  • Vehicles overturned
  • Light objects become missiles

EF 3

219 -266km/h

Severe damage

  • Storeys of well-built homes destroyed
  • Significant damage to public buildings
  • Lorries overturned and moved
  • Less sturdy buildings completely blown over 

EF 4

267 - 322km/h

Devastating damage

  • Well-built homes damaged
  • Cars overturned 
  • Numerous objects become missiles

EF 5

> 322km/h

Extreme damage

  • Solid houses reduced to rubble 
  • Objects the size of cars flung over 100m
  • Structural damage to buildings and skyscrapers

In March a tornado registering EF2 hit the village of Pontarion in Creuse, central France, damaging roofs, windows and telephone lines. No one was reported to have been hurt. 

Read more: Watch: Villagers record ‘almost apocalyptic tornado’ in central France

In 2008 a tornado with wind speeds of between 267 to 322km/h - EF4 - hit the commune of Hautmont in northern France, reducing houses to piles of bricks. It resulted in three deaths, 18 peole wounded and over 180 families left homeless.

France TV Info reported in August this year that, 15 years after the event, the village had been left traumatised, with one man committing suicide after finding his home in ruins.

Only two tornadoes registering EF5 on the scale have ever been recorded in France, one in 1967 in Palluel, Pas-de-Calais, and the other in 1945 in Montville, Seine-Maritime. 

Read also

What to do (and not do) during heavy rain and flood alerts in France

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