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Incredibly Rare Tornado Sighting Over Lake Kariba

Lake Kariba tornado
The system starts to form out of the storm clouds in the distance. Photo by Roger de la Harpe, Matusadona

It was late afternoon on Lake Kariba when the thunderclouds started forming like ominous grey monsters on the horizon.

We were photographing a fish eagle perched on a dead stump, the amazing colours of the bird glowing in the soft afternoon light over Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe. Beyond the fish eagle, the storm grew darker and we could see the rain coming down over the lake in torrents.

Suddenly, what seemed like a large tornado began to form at the base of the clouds, growing bigger and bigger as it reached the water. Roger de la Harpe was lucky enough to capture this sighting with amazing skill, the regal fish eagle providing the context and foreground of this rare African phenomenon.

Lake Kariba tornado

Lake Kariba tornado
The regals fish eagle posing in front of the distant tornado. Photo by Roger de la Harpe, Matusadona
Lake Kariba tornado
The system growing in size. Photo by Roger de la Harpe, Matusadona

Kariba is one of the largest dams in the world, causing huge amounts of precipitation, and so commands its own unique climate – this could account for the amazing scale of the storm and the eventual forming of this rare system.

Any other sightings or expert accounts of tornadoes in the area are welcome in the comments section.

Update: After some helpful comments and further investigation it has been ascertained that this is a water spout – otherwise referred to as a non-supercell tornado. It’s a similar phenomenon to cyclones and tornados but generally found over water rather than land. They are still considered dangerous and pose a threat to swimmers and water craft.

Lake Kariba tornado
The storm system starts to disappear. Photo by Roger de la Harpe, Matusadona

Comments

  1. Rex Taylor
    Centurion, RSA
    March 19, 9:24 am

    I operated a Sailing Flotilla on The Lake. In early 2000’s, while moored on an island off Bumi Hills, we saw a water spout enter our bay and pass within 400m of the fleet. It picked up water by “the 200 litre drum full”, but at 400 m we were little affecte, although awed by the noise!. Within 200m of making landfall near ourselves, it ran out of power and seemingly dissolved! Across The Lake we watched three spouts form from the cloud layer in the next two hours.

  2. George Horton
    Johannesburg
    March 18, 1:53 am

    Over a 8 year period at Cahorra Bassa I witnessed this phenomena on 3 occasions. Sorry, 2 occasions because one occurrence was at night so just experienced its power, as it traveled in a north easterly easterly direction along the lake. Its trail could be followed by a destructive line which smashed into our kapenta sheds taking the roof, asbestos sheeting and its steel and dropping it 4 kilometers away. Huge mopani trees were snapped like match sticks. (ON this occasion one of the cyclones was moving down the Mozambique channel). In the afternoon prior to this visitation the labor had cone to me and told me to look up at a CD in the sky. This describes what we saw, a ‘flattish’ spiral with colors radiating out from the center. The CD indicated turbulence or instability in the atmosphere at about 9,000m, 3 hours later the camp was hit by the phenomena. On the two other occasions I saw these funnels come down at a distance, sometimes they would stop half way down and bounce back up then down again to touch the water or earth. It was no time to stay on the water and was able to navigate away into a place of shelter until the storm had passed (during the day) unfortunately I have no images.

    • Paul Steyn
      March 18, 2:23 am

      Fascinating. Thanks very much for the story George.

  3. Steve Schafer
    Johannesburg
    March 17, 3:11 am

    Even more amazing is that I know two of the 4 people listed here from the Television industry – Roger and Angela!
    I had no idea you two spent time at Lake Kariba…

  4. Russell Taylor
    Namibia
    March 15, 11:07 am

    During 14 years I lived and worked in Matusadona National Park waterspouts were not uncommon phenomena during wet seasons. Very good photos, thanks!

  5. jayde clack
    harare
    March 13, 3:56 pm

    I have also witnessed a similar formation over kariba by matusadona in 2005. Subsequently I researched it and discovered that it is in fact a “water spout” and is more common than I thought.

  6. Angela Wigmore
    England
    March 13, 3:20 pm

    This is not a tornedo – it is a water-spout and they are not particularly uncommon on Kariba. Nice pictures though.