100 Years Later: Reflecting on Alfred Wegener’s Contributions to Tornado Research in Europe

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Alfred Wegener not only proposed the theory of continental drift, but was also the founder of modern tornado research in Europe.

Alfred Wegener (1880–1930) was a leading geophysicist, atmospheric scientist, and an Arctic explorer who is mainly remembered today for his contributions to the theory of continental drift. Less well known are his contributions to research on tornadoes in Europe. Published 100 years ago, Wegener’s 1917 book Wind- und Wasserhosen in Europa (Tornadoes and Waterspouts in Europe) is an impressive synthesis of knowledge on tornadoes and is considered the first modern pan-European tornado climatology with 258 reports from 1456–1913. Unfortunately, Wegener’s book was overlooked after the 1950s amid declining interest in tornadoes by European researchers and meteorologists. The recent revival of tornado studies in Europe invites a reflection on Wegener’s book. Using a relatively small dataset, Wegener was able to describe characteristics of tornadoes (e.g., direction of movement, speed, rotation, formation mechanism), as well as their frequency of occurrence and climatology, comparable with the results from modern tornado climatologies. Wegener’s lasting scientific contributions to tornado research are presented in the context of European research on this topic. Specifically, his book showed the utility of reports from citizen scientists and inspired other researchers, namely Johannes Letzmann who continued to study European tornadoes after Wegener’s death.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-578
Number of pages12
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number4
Early online date30 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019