Killer twister hits Frankton

25 August 1948

Three people were killed and 80 injured, and about 150 houses were wrecked or badly damaged by New Zealand’s deadliest recorded tornado. Damage was estimated at more than £1 million (more than $70 million in today’s money).

Cars were smashed, concrete telephone poles snapped and trees torn up during the 10 minutes that the tornado took to cut a path 100 to 200 m wide through Frankton, on the western outskirts of Hamilton. The tornado lifted as it reached the Hamilton CBD before landing again in Hamilton East. Here more trees were uprooted and two more houses damaged before it moved away from the city towards Tamahere.

The tornado picked up one house and turned it around before dropping it across the street. Amazingly, the occupants – a woman and her two children –  escaped unharmed.

According to MetService the western side of the North Island (between Auckland and the Kapiti Coast) is the second most tornado-prone area of the country, after Westland. On average more than 30 tornadoes a year strike New Zealand. Most are relatively small and only about one-third of them occur near people and are reported.

The Frankton tornado was rated at F2 on the Fujita scale, a six-point scale used to rate the intensity of a tornado or other severe wind. At F2 wind speeds are between 150 and 200 km per hour.

Image: view of Keddell Street (Hamilton Public Libraries