Killer twister hits Frankton

25 August 1948

Walter Nash visits a tornado-damaged house in Frankton (Hamilton City libraries, HCL 07046)

Three people were killed, 80 injured and about 150 buildings destroyed or badly damaged by New Zealand’s deadliest recorded tornado. The damage was estimated at more than £1 million (equivalent to about $75 million today).

Cars were smashed, concrete telephone poles snapped and trees torn up during the 10 minutes 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 Hamilton’s CBD but touched down 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 – were not injured.

The western side of the North Island 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 are seen by people and reported.