Rancaekek and Jatinangor Hit by Tornado, Wednesday, February 21, 2024

On Wednesday, February 21, 2024, the Rancaekek and Jatinangor areas were struck by a tornado. The strong winds that crossed the Bandung-Garut Highway uprooted trees and several billboards. The fast-spinning winds also wreaked havoc on factories, the BORMA shopping center, and hundreds of residential houses. Dozens of people were injured, but as of the writing of this article, there have been no reported fatalities.

This rare phenomenon in Indonesia has prompted researchers from the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) to investigate further. In her post on Twitter, Erma Yulihastin, a climatology expert at BRIN, stated that the rampage of the wind in Rancaekek falls into the category of a tornado, marking it as the first tornado in Indonesia. Located in a highland area protected by mountains, the Bandung Basin has been hit by tornadoes several times. The Sundanese people refer to this natural phenomenon as “angin puyuh” (whirlwind).

Prior to this recent event, Rancaekek was last hit by a tornado in 2019. While it did not cause any fatalities, the windstorm that struck Jelegong Village and parts of the Bumi Rancaekek Kencana housing complex injured dozens of residents and damaged hundreds of homes. Decades earlier, in October 1933, reports from several contemporary newspapers indicated that Rancaekek was also hit by a tornado, destroying dozens of houses and claiming one life. Five years later, a similar event occurred in the Ciparay area, about 9 kilometers south of Rancaekek, where the strong winds damaged nine warehouses in the market and injured many people.

Long before the appearance of tornadoes in Rancaekek, a similar phenomenon occurred near the city of Bandung. In 1913, a strong windstorm devastated the plantations in Ciumbuleuit, located 4 pals (6 km) north of the center of Bandung. The newspaper Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad, dated February 27, 1913, vividly described the event, stating that several factory walls collapsed and heavy wooden beams were thrown near the administrator’s house. While some employee houses were damaged, a few remained inhabitable.

Following its occurrence in Ciumbuleuit, the tornado reappeared, this time east of Bandung. In early January 1922, the newspaper Het nieuws van den dag voor Nederlandsch-Indie reported a storm in the eastern part of Bandung. Although no lives were lost, the tornado destroyed the telephone network, disrupting interlocal communication from Bandung to the east.

Although rare, the phenomenon of tornadoes in the Bandung Basin must not be ignored. The historical records mentioned above provide information that large winds hitting Bandung will be extremely strong and destructive once they form. In addition to vigilance, educating the public about mitigation is crucial. The government can collaborate with scientists to create educational materials on what people should prepare for before a tornado strikes. In an official release issued by BRIN, the Head of the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center, Albertus Sulaiman, explained that interdisciplinary collaboration and public participation can accelerate public understanding of tornadoes, enabling early detection, mitigation, and adaptation.

Indonesia could perhaps take a cue from the United States in addressing tornado phenomena. The U.S. government, through the National Weather Service, conducts tornado research and provides early warnings to the public if a tornado forms. For example, the Indonesian government could develop tools or methods to predict the arrival of tornadoes or large-scale winds, allowing residents to prepare if such winds occur. This tool would alert residents and prioritize actions when early warnings are issued. The government could also educate people on what to do if a tornado suddenly occurs, whether they should leave their homes, take cover under a table, or prepare a room under the house well in advance.

Efforts like these are crucial to minimizing material losses and casualties. Rancaekek, like other places in Indonesia, has a relatively high potential for natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, landslides, and now large-scale tornadoes are all potential threats. Now, it’s up to us to respond accordingly.