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PHIL SMITH

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The Tornado at Tom's Bridge.

In the Australian Summer of either 1969-1970 or 1970-1971 I lived in Mary Street, Morwell, Victoria.  (It's dreadful!  The older I get, the harder it is to remember times and dates from a long time ago!)  I was a school teacher at the time, so the tornado appeared on a weekend or during school holidays.

I was in the back yard at my home excitedly watching the development of thick black thunderclouds on a hot and sultry afternoon at about 15:00 (3:00 p.m.).  A flash of lightning to the North caused me to look in that direction where I noticed a funnel shape forming at the base of the clouds.  It was swirling rapidly and soon extended towards the ground.  I estimated that it was somewhere close to Latrobe Road.

I threw on my World War II flying suit and helmet, jumped on my motorbike and sidecar and drove off in an Easterly direction along Mary Street towards Latrobe Road.  By checking the direction of the tornado using triangulation, I estimated that it was about 500 metres South East of Tom's Bridge at the other end of Latrobe Road. 

By this time the tornado looked big and black like a solid pole (or rather, more like a big black pillar) standing on the ground with the thunderclouds balanced on top.

At Latrobe Road, I turned left and soon sped out of town towards the tornado.  It was moving very slowly from right to left towards Latrobe Road.  North of West Melbourne Road, past the Municipal Rubbish Tip, I approached several sharp bends in Latrobe Road (near the Hill Climb circuit) where I had to concentrate on my driving to avoid running off the road.  As it was, I was taking each left-hand curve with the sidecar lifting off the road into the air as I sped around on two wheels.  I could not therefore watch the tornado quite so closely.

After the curvy section, at the long down-hill straight, I looked up again at the tornado, now less than 400 metres away and saw it seem to explode outwards in all directions from the bottom, leaving the air full of water, clouds, and flying debris.   Immediately before it blew out, I estimated the diameter of the tornado to be about 100 or 150 metres.  It might have perhaps been a little more than this.  By the time I was 200 metres away, the funnel had retracted right up into the cloud above.

As I reached the last right turn before Tom's Bridge, I was forced to stop the motorcycle due to huge amounts of water flooding down the hillside and crossing the road in a current so strong that, if I had ventured into it, my motorbike and sidecar would have been swept away.  This was the first and only time in my life where I witnessed a flood with a sloping surface!  The tornado, or maybe the thunderstorm surrounding it, had dropped about 60 cm of rain on the sloping hillside and here it was all rushing down towards the Latrobe River which was on the other side of Latrobe Road at the bottom of the hill.

I should also mention that I was glad to be wearing my safety helmet, as when I had reached the point where the tornado had just blown itself out, lots of debris such as roofing iron, posts, tree branches and hay bales were still raining down from the sky all around.  Nothing actually hit either me or my motorbike.

Other traffic also arrived and I flagged down the cars and made them wait until the flood had subsided.  The drivers of the cars were asking how come all the water was flowing across the road.  Apparently they had all been too busy concentrating on their driving to notice the tornado. 

Meanwhile I kept my eyes on the thunderstorm hoping I might see another funnel cloud forming, but while there was lots of lightning and very loud thunder, the tornado at Tom's Bridge was the only one to form out of that particular storm as far as I know.

The lightning seemed to be very frequent and the thunder very noisy before during and after the tornado.  In other words, this was a very active thunderstorm.

I called into the only farm on that hillside to find out whether anybody had seen the tornado, but there was nobody home.  The next day, however, I heard that the farmer was wanting to know how all of the debris came to be strewn across his paddocks.

Damage caused by the tornado was minimal.  An old ramshackle tin shed which had been long overdue for demolition had been utterly removed from its site and explained the roofing iron which I had seen falling from the sky after the tornado.  Many bales of hay had been removed from paddocks on the hillside although many had been left in place as well.  At the edge of the bush a few trees had been stripped out, twisted around and generally smashed up where the tornado had apparently first touched down.

It was evident that the tornado had not progressed very far during its brief ten minutes of life.  It had first touched down about 700 metres South East of Tom's Bridge and had blown itself out after travelling along the ground for only about 600 metres, as all the rubbish was raining down about 100 metres South East of Tom's Bridge when I arrived there.

Here ends my eye witness account of the Tornado at Tom's Bridge.

Phil Smith.

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