Deadly Twisters in Florida

Michael Garlock reports on a series of deadly tornadoes rated at EF-3 on the enhanced Fujita scale tore across central Florida with wind speeds estimated at between 136 and 165 mph.


In the early-morning hours of Feb. 2, 2007, a series of deadly tornadoes rated at EF-3 on the enhanced Fujita scale tore across central Florida with wind speeds estimated at between 136 mph and 165 mph. In their aftermath, the twisters and thunderstorms that accompanied them left 20 people dead...


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In the early-morning hours of Feb. 2, 2007, a series of deadly tornadoes rated at EF-3 on the enhanced Fujita scale tore across central Florida with wind speeds estimated at between 136 mph and 165 mph. In their aftermath, the twisters and thunderstorms that accompanied them left 20 people dead, thousands of residents without power and preliminary damage estimates at $80 million.

It was the second-deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in Florida's history, surpassing a 1962 tornado that killed 17 people in the Panhandle. The worst tornadic catastrophe in the state occurred in 1998, when the infamous "Groundhog Day Storm" of five tornadoes and associated storms killed 42 people near Orlando over a period of two days.

Although Florida may be most associated with hurricanes, tornadoes are not uncommon. When the jet steam digs south into Florida and is accompanied by a strong cold front and a strong squall line of thunderstorms, the jet stream's high winds of 100 mph to 200 mph often strengthen a thunderstorm into what is called a supercell that produces high winds, hail and tornadoes. Tornadoes are just as likely to strike at midnight as they are in the afternoon and that is precisely what happened on Feb. 2. Moreover, the deleterious effects of El Nino often add to the combustibility of an already-volatile weather environment and further subjects a general populace that is ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with catastrophic tornadic activity to additional physical and emotional trauma.

A supercell thunderstorm moved east by northeast at 50 mph to 60 mph along a 75-plus-mile track from Sumter County to offshore Volusia County and produced three tornadoes. The first two tornadoes were extremely violent and were responsible for 20 fatalities. The third tornado was not as strong, but still resulted in significant property damage. Lake, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties were declared to be in a state of emergency by Governor Charlie Crist.

According to the National Weather Service in Melbourne, Tornado Number One was classified as a high-end EF-3 with winds of 155 mph to 160 mph. It initially touched down at 3:08 A.M. in Sumter County near Wildwood and The Villages and then crossed into Lake County and struck the town of Lady Lake at 3:20 A.M. The twister caused damage to structures where most walls collapsed except for their interior rooms. Large trees were debarked with only the stubs of the largest branches remaining. Mobile homes were destroyed, 100 residences were damaged and 36 were destroyed. The tornado lifted at 3:25 A.M. east of Lady Lake, resulting in a path length of 16½ miles. The tornado was one-quarter-mile wide during its maximum extent. Seven fatalities were associated with this tornado.

Tornado Number Two was also classified as a high-end EF-3 with winds of 160 mph to 165 mph (about 30 mph stronger than Hurricane Katrina). The tornado touched down at 3:37 A.M. east of Highway 439 and west of Lake Norris in rural Lake County and reached Lake Mack at 3:48 with peak winds near 165 mph, resulting in 10 fatalities. Complete destruction of mobile homes occurred and large trees were debarked. Seventy-three residences were damaged and 33 were destroyed.

The tornado then reached Forest Drive and State Road 44 with winds of 150 mph to 155 mph, resulting in three additional fatalities. The twister crossed from Lake County to Volusia County near Hontoon Island and struck DeLand at 4:02 A.M. as an EF-3 tornado with winds near 150 mph. The tornado lifted at 4:10 A.M near the Volusia County Fairgrounds east of Interstate 4. Over 250 mobile homes and 27 single-family dwellings were destroyed in DeLand and unincorporated West Volusia County. The path length was 26 miles. The tornado's maximum width was one-third of a mile. A total of 13 fatalities occurred with this tornado.

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