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West Florida Tornado Outbreak

Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 5:00 PM MST

TAMPA BAY, FL -- 9 tornadoes broke out this past Thursday in Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Polk Counties, leaving heavy damage in Largo, South Tampa, and Lakeland. For me, it was an epic day of storm chasing and spotting. The Storm Prediction Center had been calling for a severe weather outbreak for a few days.

I woke up around 7 AM, and there was already a Tornado Watch and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning up. The first Tornado Warning was issued between 8:30 and 8:45 AM for a tornado in northwest Hillsborough County. The radar showed definitive rotation and before long, there were calls pouring in reporting a tornado on the ground near Lutz. The tornado barreled east into Polk County before dissipating. Warnings continued to go up non-stop throughout the morning. A few tornadoes were reported north and east of Tampa.

The big squall line came ashore around 11 AM, with a clear tornado on radar west of Indian Rocks Beach. A Tornado Warning was issued for Pinellas County. The twister came ashore around 11:15, tearing roofs off of houses in Indian Rocks Beach. It continued east, causing damage in Largo, and caused a hangar to collapse at the St. Pete/Clearwater Airport, damaging some planes and shutting down the airport. It flipped an 18-wheeler as it crossed the Howard-Frankland Bridge, and destroyed the Progress Village neighborhood in South Tampa. This twister was rated a very strong EF-1, with winds around 105 mph. Winds of 110 mph would have made it an EF-2. It also dropped another tornado at the Lakeland Airport, damaging numerous planes that were part of the Sun 'n' Fun Air Show.

I wanted to see the tornado as it crossed the bay, but doing so would have broken one of the most important safety rules of recreational storm chasing...never put yourself in the path of a tornado. I did make it down to the beach and got into the south end of the bow. There was plenty of rotation in it, but wasn't enough to put down any tornadoes. I still got some pretty good pictures and videos.

The storm continued to produce severe weather throughout the day, with the SPC finally letting the Tornado Watch expire around 8 PM. So far the National Weather Service has confirmed 9 tornadoes. This is the most significant severe weather event that West Florida has seen in years.

Posted In: Chase Recaps

Tagged: Tornado, Outbreak, Straight Line Winds, Squall Line, Memorable