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News / City Life

Here's what it looked like when three tornadoes hit Melbourne at once

Old photo of Melbourne, Swanston Street looking south
Photograph: State Library of Victoria

On February 2, 1918, an F3 class tornado hit the bayside suburb of Brighton. The Brighton tornado is the strongest storm ever recorded in Melbourne, hitting the beach and surrounding suburbs and causing aggressive damage to properties and landmarks.  

Following intense northwesterly winds and hot, sticky weather, a thunderstorm moved across Port Phillip Bay, where two tornadoes formed. Reports say the tornadoes struck Brighton Beach at approximately 5.45pm, moving inland towards the junction of Halifax and Church streets before a third tornado joined them. The tornadoes were then said to head east over open fields.

At the time, the Southern Cross newspaper reported that the tornadoes caused over £150,000 worth of damage, with houses demolished and multiple trees uprooted. "At about half-past four [...] residents of Brighton noticed the heavy blue-black cloud gathering in the south-west and growing more and more menacing," the report said. "A quarter of an hour later with scarcely a warning sound, a gale of unprecedented violence struck the foreshore. The moment it struck the mainland the air became thick with flying tiles, sheets of galvanized iron, branches of trees, and large sections of wood."

Methodist Church Brighton tornado

 

The Methodist Church, Hawthorn Road in Brighton after the Brighton tornado in 1918.
Photograph: Creative Commons

 

Amazingly, only two people died as a result of the tornado. One man drowned at St Kilda Beach, and another died at Brighton Beach when a fruit stall collapsed on top of him. As well as multiple homes being destroyed, and the tornado also damaged Brighton Baths, tore the roof off the Royal Terminus Hotel and the Sandringham railway line also received extensive damage.

The tornado was rated an F3 on the Fujita scale, which is classified as causing "severe damage" with estimated 254-332km/h winds. It’s said to be one of the most extreme tornadoes to hit a major Australian city ever.

In pictures: Take a look at these famous Melbourne landmarks back in the day.

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