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Severe thunderstorms in South Australia are unusual during the summer months as most activity of this type occurs during the winter, when active cold fronts sweep across southern parts of the state on a fairly regular basis.

However on occasion a summer thunderstorm can become severe and on Monday 29th December 1913 such a storm wreaked havoc across the small mining township of Iron Knob, located to the southwest of Port Augusta.

A contemporary newspaper report described the scene:


Mr. Robson, a traveller for Mr. Charles Morgan, of Port Pirie, returned from Iron Knob by steamer last night. This morning he supplied a vivid description of the damage wrought on the other side of the Gulf by Monday's storm.

The storm, he said, was more of the nature of a typhoon or tornado than anything else. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon two clouds, one from the south-west and one from the north, seemed to meet about half a mile to the west of Iron Knob. Upon their impact there was a heavy clap as of thunder, and the storm centre then swiftly moved in the direction of the township.

The first striking point was at the residence of Mr. P. Brett, where it took away a bedroom, furniture end everything included and carried the whole for fifty yards. Further on its course the tornado lifted several sheets of iron from the roof of Mr. H. Wilsdens house, and next attacked his back house, which it laid flat. It caught the gaol with full force, lifted the roof off, whirled it 200 yards, and landed it at the rear of Mr. J. Martin's house, over which it was blown. The remainder of the gaol structure in which there were no prisoners at the time, was turned completely upside down and the police stables were also entirely demolished.

At Mr. P. Burton's hotel a 1,000-gallon tank was blown 100 yards, and an old acetylene gas generator was whirled away a similar distance. On the other side of the hill the storm caught the railway cottages, on which it vented its full force, taking roofs and verandahs clean away. Mr. J. Farrell's house received the worst of it, for there were only three walls standing when the storm had passed. It next proceeded to the new cottages just erected by the Broken Hill Proprietary Co., the roofs of which were rall started, with the result that into the houses the rain which succeeded the wind storm poured like a cascade.

Further on its journey the storm attacked the new rooms erected for the men working for the company, and it is now impossible to place any two sheets of iron in their original position, for they were torn like tissue paper, and the buildings themselves were totally destroyed.  One structure of 14 rooms was blown bodily on to the railway.

It was miraculous that among all this damage only one man was seriously injured, and he is now an inmate of the hospital. To give an idea of the force of the wind, Mr. Robson said that myall trees 40 to 50ft. high were torn out of the ground, and in some cases were carried fifty yards, while a 1,000-gallon tank belonging to the Proprietary Co. was blown nearly two miles, while a lady's bicycle, which was hanging from the roof of Messrs. Young and Gordon's store, was after the blow found in a tree 150 yards away.

Several houses other than those mentioned had their roofs torn off, and their contents suffered considerably by the deluge which followed the wind. At Mr. W. Puddy's residence the wind carried away the entire structure excepting the base of the chimney, which was of stone, and left Mrs. Puddy and her children homeless. Mr. P. Burton heard their cries for help and went to their assistance. He carried them in turn over to the hotel, and had to wade through a raging torrent almost waist deep to do so.

The tornado only lasted ten minutes or a quarter of an hour.

By Dick Witaker

Iron Knob hopes that not all history is repeated