By Times Staff
Published February 2, 2007
Powerful storms blew through Central Florida early Friday, spawning tornadoes that killed at least 19 people, damaged hundreds of homes, snarled traffic on Interstate 4 and knocked out power to about 40,000 households and businesses. Six people were reported dead in Lady Lake and 13 were reported dead in Paisley as of Friday night. Search teams with dogs were still hunting for victims. Officials did not know how many people might be injured or missing.
How widespread was the damage?
The storms moved across Sumter and Lake counties about 3:15 a.m., then moved east to Volusia County. Emergency officials estimated that 500 homes were damaged or destroyed in Lake County and 100 were damaged in Sumter County. The storms demolished the Lady Lake Church of God, toppled an Orlando radio station’s 1,500-foot tower and sank a 90-foot paddle-wheel tour boat, the Lady Beresford.
Why were these storms particularly deadly?
Because it hit before dawn, when most people are asleep. Forecasters issued a tornado watch about midnight and a tornado warning 8 to 15 minutes before the first one touched down, but warnings do little good at that hour. “The most dangerous tornado scenario is a threat for killer tornadoes at night, and that was the case,” said Dave Sharp, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Melbourne.
How did the storms cause problems on Interstate 4?
At least five crashes took place within a quarter mile near I-4’s New Smyrna Beach exit, closing the highway for about three hours. The wind lifted a semitrailer truck and dropped it on another semi.
Did the storms cause any damage locally?
No, though rain and winds were heavy at times. By 5 p.m. Friday, Tampa had recorded 0.88 inches of rain and St. Petersburg had 1.54 inches. Weather experts said the rain would help with the region’s drought. About 2,500 Progress Energy customers in Pinellas County and 300 in Pasco County lost power. Tampa Electric Co. reported storm-related outages to 1,200 customers, most in eastern Hillsborough County. All but a handful had their power back on by Friday afternoon.
Was this the deadliest tornado strike in Florida history?
No, but it’s the worst in nearly a decade. In February 1998, five twisters hit near Orlando over two days, killing 42 people and damaging or destroying about 2,600 homes and businesses. A March 1962 tornado killed 17 people near Milton in the Panhandle.
Does Florida have a tornado season, like hurricane season?
Florida has two tornado seasons, summer and spring. The summer, from June until September, has the highest number of tornadoes, but what state emergency officials call the “deadly spring season,” which runs from February through April, is characterized by more powerful tornadoes.
Why are spring tornadoes worse?
The jet stream fuels their fury. When the jet stream hits Florida accompanied by a strong cold front and thunderstorms, its high-level winds of 100 to 200 mph can strengthen a thunderstorm into what’s called a supercell or mesocyclone. They can move at speeds of 30 to 50 mph and produce dangerous downburst winds, big chunks of hail and the deadliest tornadoes.
What are state officials doing about the disaster?
Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency, then toured some of the damaged areas with Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Sen. Bill Nelson. The Florida National Guard is on stand-by. State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Secretary Charles Bronson is asking anyone seeing price gouging to report it.
Compiled from reports from Times wires and staff writers Craig Pittman, Steve Huettel, Jennifer Liberto and Elena Lesley.