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Tornadoes Start 2011 Off Fast

Posted on Sunday, January 16, 2011 at 5:00 PM MST

ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- 2011 has officially started, highlighted by an intercept of a powerful severe thunderstorm at my favorite spot, the Pinellas Point Boat Ramps. A warm front lifted through the Tampa Bay area overnight and stalled before starting to slowly sag back to the south. All of the SPC and NWS forecasts were calling me to the Space Coast and South Florida, but the idea of crossing Interstate 4 in a monsoon wasn't all that appealing to me, so I gambled on the front close to home, which looked absolutely incredible on radar. I was originally planning to intercept at the Skyway, but Pinellas Point offers such a better view.

I hadn't been at the boat ramp more than 10 minutes when the Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued, containing a special statement for a high threat of waterspouts. One last look at the radar showed the strengthening mesocyclone heading straight for me. All I had to do was sit and wait for it to come to me. Unfortunately, this cell contained torrential rain so visibility was next to zero, meaning I couldn't shoot any photos, but it was still an impressive storm to be inside of. The strongest part of the cell ended up passing just barely to the south and east of where I was, so the winds and lightning strikes weren't as intense as the warning said. What impressed me most about this cell was that as I was watching the clouds zip by overhead, everything that passed overhead was rotating. As I looked south and east over Tampa Bay, I did see several cloud formations that looked like funnel clouds, but with the heavy rain, I couldn't tell if they were actual funned clouds or just scud.

I hung around the boat ramp for a bit after the storm passed to see if there were any photo ops on the back side of the storm, which there ended up being none. The clouds continued to rotate as the flew by overhead. By the time I got home and was waiting for the next cell to come ashore, that cell I had just intercepted had a tornado signature on it near Sun City Center on the other side of the bay. It was tornado warned by the time it got to the east coast. I'm sure more tornadoes occurred than the one that was reported near I-95 in Orange County.

All in all, the day was a bust photography-wise, but in terms of observing and experiencing severe weather, you couldn't have asked for much better (maybe less rain). 2011 is definitely off to a fast start, and hopefully this is an indication of great things to come this year.

Posted In: Chase Recaps

Tagged: Tornado, Waterspout, Squall Line