Six people were killed and nearly 200 injured Wednesday when a deadly tornado tore through part of northeastern China. Chinese state media reports the tornado touched down about 5:15 p.m. local time.
Tornadoes are not uncommon in China: About seven to eight occur each year on average, most in a corridor along the coastal plain in eastern China. Within this comparatively narrow alley, low-pressure systems dropping out of Mongolia and central Russia clash with moisture streaming in from the Yellow and East China seas. Once in a while, supercell thunderstorms can spin up, and as was the case Wednesday, the results can be destructive.
Xinhuanet reported the twister lasted about 15 minutes, ravaging apartment buildings and an industrial park. The tornadic storm was accompanied by hail.
Terrifying eyewitness video captured the moments the tornado swirled across a roadway, the circulation appearing to pass over the videographer’s vehicle. Large storage containers are seen being drawn into the vortex, the atmospheric sink drain yanking trees out of the ground. If one watches closely, it’s possible to spot the trees leaning right, then left as the wind switches direction beneath the funnel’s powerful rotation.
At one point, the tornado stirred up enough dust to become fully enshrouded, lifting sand more than 1,000 feet. Maliciously elegant striations can be seen where the tornado merges with the cloud base, evidence of a strong “mesocyclone” within the thunderstorm. At first glance, the damage left behind appears commensurate with at least a strong EF-2 to low-end EF-3 tornado. Winds may have topped 130 mph.
Twisters this strong in China are unusual, with most falling on the lower end of the scale. Once in a while, however, violent tornadoes do occur. China recorded its first EF-4 tornado on June 23, 2016, a mile-wide monster that killed 98.
Tornadoes are a seldom enough occurrence in China that the country has no designated “tornado warning” it can issue. “Instead, the potential for a tornado may be mentioned in a thunderstorm warning together with the potential for wind gusts, torrential rain, hail and lightning,” according to a 2017 paper discussing Chinese tornadoes. Four color-coded alert tiers — blue, yellow, orange and red — are utilized based on severity.
Meanwhile, more dangerous weather might be in the offing for areas cleaning up after Wednesday’s storms. A “yellow warning of severe convective weather” is in effect for regions surrounding Beijing through Saturday, which “will be exposed to thunderstorm, [gales] or hail."