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 relaxing on the Matusadona safari cruiser, photographing a fish eagle perched on a dead stump, with 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 small water craft.

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


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Meet the Author
Paul Steyn is a widely-published multi-media content producer from South Africa, and regular contributor to National Geographic News and blogs. Having guided throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel and wildlife magazine, and now focuses on nature storytelling in all its forms. In 2013, he joined a team of researchers and Bayei on a 250km transect of the Okavango Delta on traditional mokoros. In 2016, he accompanied the Great Elephant Census team in Tanzania and broke the groundbreaking results on National Geographic News . Contact: Follow Paul on Twitter or Instagram