The total number of victims is unknown, but is assessed at over 500. It is one of the 10 deadliest tornadoes ever, achieving the highest death toll for a tornado event in continental Europe and the second in European history after the Valletta, Malta Tornado.
Tornadoes are an extremely rare occurrence in Italy, sometimes happening on a local scale but rarely causing relevant damage.
Sicily tornadoes are the oldest documented occurrence of the phenomena on Italian ground. While the event is documented in many official sources, such as church registers and community archives, there are few reports from local witnesses.
On December 20, 1851, the Illustrated London News published a report dating back to December 8 submitted by local sources in Malta, describing the path of two large waterspouts that crossed Sicilian plains from Marsala to Castellamare del Golfo, moving north-eastbound and evolving in a supercell of two full-blown tornadoes less than 500 meters apart.
The most stricken area was Castellamare, where half the town was destroyed and about 200 citizens perished. The city harbor sustained serious damage, with many vessels destroyed or capsized and their crews lost at sea.
- Corazzon, Paolo (2002). I più grandi eventi meteorologici della storia. Alpha Test.
- "Waterspouts". The Gallery of Natural Phenomena. Retrieved 19 July 2011.