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A Tampa Trifecta

Posted on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 5:00 PM MST

Part 1

ZEPHYRHILLS, FL -- I was originally targeting an area to the south on Thursday, down in the heart of Sarasota County. That area saw some great storms in the morning, but by afternoon the storms were ripe for pickin' along the Interstate 4 corridor in Lightning Alley.

At about 2:30 PM, I looked at the radar, and found most of I-4 between Tampa and Orlando was under various Severe Thunderstorm Warnings. I set my eyes on one of those severe-warned cells was in the Brandon area, tracking north/northeast towards the interstate. By the time I got onto I-4, the storm had fallen apart, and the warning had been cancelled. Just as I was feeling the agony of defeat, the radio buzzed, and a new Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued on a huge cell just to the north. The storm had a well-defined mesocyclone on it, and the northern part of it was dropping pea-to-quarter-sized hail in Hernando County.

I got off of I-4 at Exit 10 and headed north on Mango Rd, where I picked up US-301. Travelling north on 301, I was able to track along right on the Southeastern flank of the impressive storm, but huge trees on the side of the road prevented me from taking any good pictures. The storm was drifting slowly to the northeast, and without any eastbound roads, I soon found myself swallowed up in the edge of the rain core. Once inside the rain core, there were some very impressive lightning strikes pretty close to me, with one striking a radio tower less than a quarter-mile away.

I came into the town of Zephyrhills at the same time as the leading edge of the storm's core. It was raining so hard you could hardly see, winds gusted in the 40-50 mph range, and several small hailstones fell around the car. I knew I was going to have to punch the core to get back to I-75, so I turned west onto SR-54 and went for it. I did have to battle heavy wind and rain (and saw some pretty flooded yards), but all in all, it was an uneventful and successful core punch.

This storm was so cool because I was able to come up from and pass behind it before tracking NNE along the edge of it and eventually got in front of it. Zephyrhills wound up getting over 4 inches of rain, and I got a couple good photos to take home with me.

Part 2

PASS-A-GRILLE BEACH, FL -- As the sun was setting, I noticed that there were some ominous dark clouds to the west. After seeing a few faint flashes in the sky, I grabbed the camera and headed out to the beach. A line of thunderstorms was about 20 miles offshore and headed straight for us. I stood on the beach and took pictures of the storm from about 9:00-9:40 PM and got some great lightning pictures. The setup for lightning pictures could not have been any more textbook. The timing worked out great, too, as my camera ran out of batteries just as it started to rain.

Part 3

ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- I ended up not having to leave the house for my final intercept of the night. I awoke around 12:30 AM to the sounds of pine cones hitting the roof. I opened the slider door in the bedroom only to be greeted by 35-45 mph wind gusts, heavy rain, and more lightning. A Special Weather Statement had been posted as strong thunderstorms were pushing through the area. Some of the wind gusts and lightning strikes were impressive (I tried to capture some of it on video), but it didn't quite live up to the powerful microburst that tore through south St. Pete on April 26th.

We awoke this morning to a threat of tornadoes, but nothing ever came out of it. It was a terrific start to June, and hopefully there will be plenty more of these to come.

Posted In: Chase Recaps

Tagged: Lightning, Straight Line Winds