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Three funnel clouds sighted as storms sweep through

Reports of three tornadoes were not confirmed by authorities, but the storm toppled trees and hundreds of homes lost power. There were no injuries.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2003

A heavy storm system whipped through Hernando County and part of Pasco County Sunday afternoon, spawning reports of tornadoes, a slew of felled trees and hundreds of power outages.

Reports of two tornadoes that touched down around the perimeter of Brooksville poured into county offices about 4 p.m., said Mark Tobert of the Hernando County Emergency Management Department.

A caller reported a third tornado near Nobleton, he said.

"But I can't confirm that for sure," Tobert said of the tornadoes.

Meteorologist Tom Dougherty of the National Weather Service said Sunday night he had no information about tornadoes around Brooksville, though he did have a report of a sighting near Nobleton.

By this morning, the system, or "frontal boundary," should be completely out of the area, Dougherty said.

"It was a line of showers or band of thunderstorms from the gulf that came through Citrus, Hernando and Sumter (counties)," he said. The storm touched parts of northern Pasco County before moving into Polk County.

Crews from Hernando County's Public Works Department were sent out Sunday afternoon to remove trees that fell at a handful of intersections, Tobert said.

Around 6 p.m., about 820 people around Brooksville were without power, said Aaron Perlut, spokesman for Progress Energy. Another 86 customers in northeast Pasco County lost power, too. But he expected workers to restore electricity to customers in both counties by early Sunday evening.

"We're calling in extra crews," Perlut said.

Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative reported only scattered outages throughout Hernando County, said spokesman Ernie Holzhauer.

The storm caused no injuries or major structural damage, Tobert said.

But it packed a mean enough punch to scare Kyle Steward. The Ocoee man was on his way to Weeki Wachee from Orlando when he saw a small funnel cloud in the distance. He pulled his Toyota SUV into the parking lot of a gas station on State Road 50 near Ridge Manor and decided to wait.

"I was driving along and I looked out into this field and thought, 'Oh, man. This is bad.' "

Although the tornado was short-lived, Steward said, he would rather be safe than risk the possible consequences.

"This thing's not built for flying," he said, slapping his vehicle's hood. "You remember what happened to Dorothy."

-- Times staff writer Joy Davis-Platt contributed to this report.

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