A HELENSBURGH couple were stunned to discover that a mini-tornado may have hit a flat they own in the town last week.

John and Anne Urquhart were alerted to what was feared to be vandalism, or even a burglary, at the property at 114 East Princes Street on the evening of Friday, August 15.

The couple, who run Balmillig B&B on Colquhoun Street, arrived at the flat to find windows wide open and furniture overturned. Litter was also strewn across the pavement outside.

But a passing neighbour soon explained that Mother Nature had been responsible, with stormy weather having just hit the town.

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And as a retired geography teacher, John, who previously taught at Hermitage Academy, was soon able to work out how things had taken their course.

He said: “On Friday evening around 7.30pm, just after a brief downpour and thunder, we received a call from a friend to say the windows were wide open in the flat and the pavement outside was covered in litter.

“Fearing a break-in or vandalism, we rushed down to find both back and front windows in the flat had been blown wide open, a chair overturned and internal doors slammed back on their hinges.

“The litter on the pavement had come from a street bin, which, missing its upper half, was lying on its side 20 metres from its normal position at the bus stop.

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“The explanation was provided by a passing neighbour who said she had never experienced anything like it – a sudden, extremely powerful, gust of wind had been the culprit, obviously associated with the thunderstorm.

“With my geography teacher hat on I can tell you that these events, known as ‘micro-bursts’, can develop under a powerful summer thunderstorm when cold heavy rain, falling from high altitude, chills the underlying air causing a violent downdraft ahead of the advancing storm.

“The other possibility is that it may have been a mini-tornado, something which is also associated with violent thunderstorms in this part of the world.”

John explained that twisting ‘funnel clouds’, or high level tornadoes, can develop where upward convection is especially strong, under towering cumulonimbus clouds.

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He said: “So long as the narrow tail of the twister doesn’t touch down, all is well, but if it contacts the ground, damage can occur due to a sudden drop in pressure and violent winds.

“We associate tornadoes more with places like Oklahoma in the US, where they are much more common, much larger and far more destructive.

“This summer a particularly large number of these funnel clouds have been reported from all over Britain and it seems that global warming may be to blame.”

John added: “If anyone finds the upper half of an Argyll and Bute street bin in their backyard, they know where it belongs!”