A tornado touched down in downtown Tampa late Tuesday morning, damaging the roof of a Harbour Island hotel and ripping through the Channelside District, as a line of showers and storms passed through west-central Florida.
According to the National Weather Service, a waterspout developed just after 11 a.m. in the channel between Harbour Island and Davis Island. It moved onshore as a small (EF0) tornado along the northern shore of Harbor Island, tearing off sections of roof covering at the Westin Tampa Harbourside Hotel.
Packing winds of 65 to 85 mph, the waterspout/tornado continued down the channel between the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Harbour Island and moved through the Channelside District before lifting just east of the Florida Aquarium.
Damage also was reported to building awnings, business signs, condo furniture, light poles, street signs and five vehicles.
'Felt like I was in Wizard of Oz'
In Harbour Island, the weather got bad-quickly.
“I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz for a second, it was pretty crazy,” said Adam Page.
“It sounded like a freight train, coming through, it was that fast,” said John Vina.
Rebecca Jernigan was on a balcony of the Westin Hotel when the tornado formed. She said it practically lifted her off the ground.
And as Jernigan ran for cover she said parts of this ceiling came down behind her.
Fortunately, she's okay, but “I really thought I was gone and I just kept running,” she said.
A couple of tourists visiting Channelside said they barely escaped the tornado by ducking into Hooters.
"The wind started getting stronger and the rain started getting stronger and we couldn't even walk,” said Talyor Guastella.
"Just as soon as we ducked in, all these chairs and signs and tents and things started blowing by,” said Ashley Connelly.
In the middle of Channelside, the tornado left a large awning dangling at the Taverna Opa restaurant. The managers said that awning shattered a large window when it came loose.
"It started to come down and it just tapped the window and then it like slammed right at that top and just shattered the glass in front of us,” said Rachel Prophet, Taverna Opa manager.
A bus driver said he was dropping off 55 visitors from Venice at the Florida Aquarium circle when the tornado began rocking the charter bus.
"We were getting ready to leave the bus to go into the aquarium and all of a sudden without warning a huge wind came up and whacked the vehicle. I was able to close the door, avoid the rain, everybody stayed calm,” Robert Hageman said.
Businesses dealt with water crisis, now a tornado
Last Friday, businesses in the area were dealing with a 48-hour boil water notice after a power outage at a Tampa water treatment plant.
"It's been a rough few days with water believe it or not,” said Prophet, whose lunch service was interrupted by the storm.
"We turned down business today,” she said. “I literally had to tell people I can't let you in because I have glass here I have to clean up. I have an awning in front of my door I couldn't get through."
At Hooters, a few tables and chairs went flying but everything was back to normal by dinnertime.
"I know there were tons of restaurants at Sam's Club over the weekend just stocking up and today we were just thinking "oh wow, another big major event we're going to have here,” Rob Fisher, Hooters manager.
Fisher said the boil water notice was worse than the weather.
“Having to go from having soda on demand to bottled soda, having to ship in ice that didn’t go through our machine and filter,” he said, “so there was a lot of logistics that went into just serving wings and beer.”
The cell that spawned the waterspout prompted a severe thunderstorm warning in Tampa just before lunch, but the damage was confined to the path of the tornado and surrounding area.
Although all of the Bay area was under a tornado watch for much of the day, no other severe weather was reported.
Well to the north of Tampa Bay, the band of rain brought a wind gust of 91 mph to Cedar Key and some down tree limbs and damage in the area. Cedar Key is located in Levy County, just north of Citrus County.
"The tornado and the high winds in Cedar Key early in the day were the only reports we have of severe weather," Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay said.
The band, which rolled in from the Gulf of Mexico, advanced a cold front that's bringing drier and cooler air to the area. Today's highs were expected to reach the mid 70s, and the temperatures will drop into the upper 50s tonight around Tampa Bay and low 50s in the northern counties.
"Tomorrow will be an entirely different kind of day," Clay said. "It'll be breezy, drier with a west wind, and the high will be in the low 70s."
The rest of work week will be pleasant before cold weather arrives for the weekend, according to the Bay News 9 weather team. The highs Saturday and Sunday aren't expected to get out of the 50s, and the lows Sunday and Monday mornings will be in the upper 30s around Tampa Bay and upper 20s in the north counties.
Latest weather updates
- A Tornado Watch that was in effect for all of the Bay area and several other counties expired.
- Some showers and storms continue but threat of severe weather has diminshed.
- Officials closed 21st and 22nd streets under the Selmon Expressway in Tampa due to high winds and the potential for falling debris from construction. Lanes reopened about an hour later.
- The severe thunderstorm warning issued in issued for Tampa has been lifted.
- A waterspout came ashore, became an EF0 (small) tornado, and damaged the roof of the Westin Tampa Harbour Island Hotel. High winds also ripped through the Channelside District, causing at least minor damage.
- Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez says the band currently passing through the area is bringing mainly only rain.
"We've had a couple of lightning strikes reported from time to time," she said.
She said the front currently extends from west of Sarasota County through Tampa Bay and northeast to about Ocala.
"The couple of storms we've been watching are showing up west of Indian Rocks Beach and just to the west of areas like St. Pete Beach," Marquez said. "There are three cells I'm watching right now that could contain some stronger wind as they get toward the beaches."
- Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay says that although the tornado watch is in effect until 3 p.m., the threat should end well before that.
- The threat of severe weather in Citrus County has ended and, in Hernando County, is rapidly ending, Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay said.
- "From Bay News 9 reporter Ferdinand Zogbaum on the conditions at Pine Island in Hernando County: "It's steady (rain) and on the light side and gray all the way out into the gulf. There are no dark clouds or anything ominous."
- Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay reports that a wind gust of 91 mph was reported at 7:30 a.m. in Cedar Key.
- Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez reports that most of Citrus County is only getting rain.
- Some tree damage has been reported in Cedar Key (Citrus County). Also, there are reports of tree limbs being down at Cedar Key High School.
- Parts of Hernando County are getting some rain. These are showers that have arrived ahead of the line of storms that will pass through Hernando County and then the rest of the Bay area late this morning and early this afternoon.