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A Preventable Tragedy

| 2:10 pm February 3, 2007 | Comments (17)

Thursday evening, a strong cold front was pushing into Central Florida. Ahead of the front, very unstable air was moving into the Sunshine State from the Gulf of Mexico. A strong jet stream and strong wind shear caused powerful thunderstorms moving in from the Gulf after midnight to quickly begin rotating.

The area had been included in a Slight Risk Outlook area from the Storm Prediction Center all day long. The outlook called for the threat of a few isolated tornadoes.

In their Hazardous Weather Outlook just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, the National Weather Service Melbourne had the following line…IT IS RECOMMENDED TO SET YOUR NOAA WEATHER RADIO TO ALERT BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP IN CASE WARNINGS ARE ISSUED OVERNIGHT.

Discussions during the evening hours highlighed the threat of severe thunderstorms and potential tornadoes.

Just before midnight, the SPC indicated in a Mesoscale Discussion that a new tornado watch for forthcoming for Central Florida and that the tornado threat was increasing across the area. The new tornado watch was issued for Central Florida just before 1 a.m. EST. It replaced a tornado watch that had been in effect for northern Florida and southern Georgia.

Strong storms moved onshore into western Florida after 1 a.m. early Friday moring.

One storm began to explode in intensity around 3 a.m. in Sumter County. This supercell would be responsible for producing as many as five tornadoes.

Here is a rough map of the supercell’s path from the NWS Melbourne.

http://www.jamesspann.com/wximages/mlbmap.jpg

Sumter County is in the Tampa area of responsibility. This is the Strom Relative Velocity image from the Tampa radar at that time. It shows strong indications of a tornado.

http://www.jamesspann.com/wximages/tbw1.jpg

(Images courtesy NWS Tampa/Ruskin)

On that basis, a tornado warning was issued.

BULLETIN – EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING…CORRECTED EXPIRATION TIME
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAMPA BAY AREA – RUSKIN FL
302 AM EST FRI FEB 2 2007

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN RUSKIN HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR…
NORTHERN SUMTER COUNTY IN FLORIDA.

* UNTIL 320 AM EST

* AT 302 AM EST…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
TORNADO OVER NORTHWESTERN SUMTER COUNTY…MOVING EAST AT 35 MPH.

* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR…
RURAL NORTHERN SUMTER COUNTY BY 305 AM EST.

THIS IS A DANGEROUS STORM! MOVE INTO THE INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST
FLOOR OF A STURDY BUILDING…AWAY FROM WINDOWS. COVER YOUR HEAD AND
BODY WITH PILLOWS OR BLANKETS.

TORNADOES ARE ESPECIALLY DANGEROUS AT NIGHT. TAKE COVER NOW! MOVE TO
A SMALL INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A STURDY BUILDING.
ABANDON MOBILE HOMES. LEAVE VEHICLES AND GET INTO A DITCH OR LOW
SPOT.

PLEASE REPORT TORNADOES OR FUNNEL CLOUDS…WINDS OF 58 MPH OR
HIGHER…HAIL THE SIZE OF PENNIES OF LARGER…AND ANY WIND DAMAGE TO
YOUR NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN RUSKIN BY CALLING 813-645-2323.

The tornado touched down in northeastern Sumter County around 3:10 a.m. It began causing damage near Wildwood. Next in its sights was The Villages, a sprawling housing community that straddles the Sumter/Lake County line.

The NWS Melbourne handles Lake County. They issued a tornado warning at 3:04 a.m. EST.

BULLETIN – EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
304 AM EST FRI FEB 2 2007

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR…
NORTHERN LAKE COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA…
THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF…PAISLEY…LISBON…LAKE GRIFFIN…
LADY LAKE…THE VILLAGES…EMERALDA…

* UNTIL 400 AM EST

* AT 304 AM EST…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED
A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO 10 MILES WEST
OF LADY LAKE. THIS STORM WAS MOVING EAST NORTHEAST AT 50 MPH.

* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR…
LADY LAKE AND THE VILLAGES BY 315 AM EST…
PAISLEY BY 345 AM EST…

THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS IN A STRONG BUILDING ON
THE LOWEST FLOOR…IN AN INTERIOR ROOM SUCH AS A BATHROOM OR CLOSET.
KEEP AWAY FROM WINDOWS. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF
STURDY FURNITURE. USE BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO COVER YOUR BODY.

The tornado would reach the Villages around 3:15 a.m.

Here is the radar from that time…

http://www.jamesspann.com/wximages/tbw2.jpg

With the Doppler radar image showing extreme gate to gate shear indicating a large and powerful tornado, the NWS Melbourne issued this dramatic statement.

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
315 AM EST FRI FEB 2 2007

FLC069-020900-
/O.CON.KMLB.TO.W.0003.000000T0000Z-070202T0900Z/
LAKE FL-
315 AM EST FRI FEB 2 2007

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 400 AM EST FOR NORTHERN
LAKE COUNTY…

AT 315 AM EST…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR CONTINUED TO
INDICATE A TORNADO. THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED 6 MILES WEST OF LADY
LAKE…MOVING EAST NORTHEAST AT 50 MPH.

THIS IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND LIFE THREATENING SITUATION. THIS
STORM IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING STRONG TO VIOLENT TORNADOES. IF YOU ARE
IN THE PATH OF THIS TORNADO…TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY!

TAKE COVER NOW! TAKE COVER NOW! TAKE COVER NOW!

IF YOU LIVE IN THE VILLAGES OR LADY LAKE…COVER NOW!

A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 600 AM EST FRIDAY MORNING FOR
EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA.

This was followed by another dramatic statement with the first reports of tornado touchdown…

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
325 AM EST FRI FEB 2 2007

FLC069-020900-
/O.CON.KMLB.TO.W.0003.000000T0000Z-070202T0900Z/
LAKE FL-
325 AM EST FRI FEB 2 2007

…A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 400 AM EST FOR NORTHERN
LAKE COUNTY…

AT 325 AM EST…LADY LAKE POLICE REPORTED THAT A TORNADO TOUCHED
DOWN AND POWER OUTAGES HAVE BEEN REPORTED IN LADY LAKE. THIS IS A
DANGEROUS SITUATION. THE STORM PRODUCING THE TORNADO HAD CROSSED
LAKE GRIFFIN AND IS MOVING SOUTH OF EMERALDA AND TOWARD UMATILLA IN
LAKE COUNTY.

IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF THIS TORNADO TAKE COVER.

THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE DURING A TORNADO IS INDOORS IN A STURDY
STRUCTURE. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR OTHER PIECE OF STURDY FURNITURE.
IF NO BASEMENT IS AVAILABLE…SEEK SHELTER ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF
THE BUILDING IN AN INTERIOR HALLWAY OR ROOM SUCH AS A CLOSET. USE
BLANKETS OR PILLOWS TO COVER YOUR BODY AND ALWAYS STAY AWAY FROM
WINDOWS.

A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 600 AM EST FRIDAY MORNING FOR
EAST CENTRAL FLORIDA.

Despite there being decent lead times on all tornado strikes, twenty people died, all or most of them in mobile homes in the Lady Lake and Paisley areas. This is a senseless tragedy that could be prevented with household NOAA Weather Radios.

This is not a lesson lost on Alabamians. We are heading into our primary severe weather season. If you do not have a NOAA Weather Radio, please go and purchase one now. They can be programmed to sound an alarm for your specific county and the specific types of warnings you are interested in receiving.

Twenty two people have already lost their lives in tornadoes in the U.S. this year. Let’s do our part to keep Alabama’s death toll at zero this year. Make sure you and your family, church, school and place of business have a tornado safety plan. Practice it when the weather is nice so you will know what to do instinctively when severe weather threatens.

Better to be prepared than lucky.

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Comments (17)

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  1. James Steve says:

    How do we condition people to use weather radios?

    A year or so ago I posted about the need for weather radios on a local message board because our town siren doesn’t work (and still doesn’t). I was blasted with comment after comment of “it’s the town’s responsibility to get weather sirens”.

    I used the arguments that not everyone can hear them, you can sleep through them, etc. Even then they basically said “well I guess we’ll die and it will be the town’s fault”. Crazy. It’s obviously a matter of conditioning but the everyday Joe apparently could care less about the weather- even life threatening!

  2. Leigh says:

    That was a great blog entry. Very compelling, especially the NWS warning statements. The horror they must have felt knowing most people were sound asleep while a nightmare was headed their way!
    Can anyone recommend a good place to get a weather radio? I’d like one that I can program to only go off during a tornado warning for my county. I don’t always use the one I have because it scares the heck out of me in the middle of the night – and then it’s a flood warning or similar.
    Any advice?

  3. Amy says:

    Get one with “SAME” programming. You can program which counties and which type of alerts the radio will sound the alarm for. Could cost $60 but well worth it!

  4. Leigh says:

    Thanks Amy!
    This isn’t the kind of thing they’ll have at a place like Wal-Mart… or is it?

  5. John Talbot says:

    Again folks with the S.A.M.E. technology you can also program for specific watches & warnings along with counties . Its that smart & easy . These are marvelous inventions to the wx radio .

    Bill , what were the conditions or ingredients besides the jet stream ( CAPE , helecity , TOTALS , SWEAT, etc . and their numbers ) if you have the time ? Also , do they know what F type of tornados yet ? Great article Bill !

    And James , thats a shame for your community . My answer would be simply if you don’t have a NOAA wx radio , get one like I mentioned , and let yourself and everyone see how it works and there you go .

    Also , if you live around central AL. see when the Storm Alert Tour will be close by and get who-ever together and GO TO IT !!

  6. John Talbot says:

    I have gotten mine from Radio Shack . I would think Wal-Mart , K-mart , etc would have them .

  7. Kellie says:

    Leigh, You can also order weather radios over the internet. Several years ago, I ordered two from Oregon Scientific. One has a battery backup and is an alarm clock & radio for beside my bed, the other is a handheld that I can take to the basement with me.

  8. James Steve says:

    Wal-Mart has two or three different brands reasonably priced with SAME. They are usually with the alarm clocks oddly enough.

  9. Leigh says:

    Thanks everyone!

    P.S. When does the severe weather season really get going in central Alabama?

  10. If you don’t have a Radio Shack, Circuit City, etc. near you,click the link below.

    There are at least 6 with “SAME” at the link below.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_e/002-1566007-1499250?url=search-alias%3Delectronics&field-keywords=weather+alert+radio&Go.x=12&Go.y=11

    Unless you want to be woke up with a warning in a county a 100 miles away, make sure the radio says “SAME”.

    Click below for a link to the NWS about how SAME works:

    http://www.weather.gov/nwr/nwrsame.htm

  11. Craig says:

    Leigh,

    A tornado can touch down during any season in AL. That said, the primary season is really March-May, but in recent years we’ve had a lot of tornadoes in the November-January time frame. Hopefully this will be a quiet year for tornadoes. Not sure what the current EL Nino deal is and what the outlook might be, but hopefully AL won’t have a major outbreak… AL is long overdue! Hope this helps

  12. Josh R. says:

    Truly a sad situation. I did some work down in Wildwood right after Hurricane Floyd while Tropical Storm Harvey came ashore. We drove from Selma NC, all the way to Wildwood just to ride the storm out. Got a friend down in Nobleton, and still havent heard from her. I’ve been there and had to work while people was wondering where their house is at, and it isnt a good thing to have to watch. I really feel for those down there. Everybody be sure to say a prayer tonight, they sure enough need it.

  13. mcgatha4 says:

    oh, and by the way….that watch had been out since thursday afternoon.

  14. Greg Moore says:

    When are we going to convince people that it is EACH INDIVIDUAL’S responsibility to manage their own affairs? If you live in AL and are too ignorant to go out and get a weather radio to protect yourself, then you run the risk of being the next nominee for a Darwin Award. It is not the media’s responsibility to keep you informed, it is not the city’s responsibility to build you a siren. The NWS has taken on the responsibility of informing of weather conditions in return for tax dollars. The weather radio is the primary avenue of delivery of that information. It is not the only avenue to recieve it however. For the gentleman above in a fringe area, use the internet. You can get software to do exactly the same thing as a radio. If the internet goes down, use one of the alert services such as ABC 33-40′s instant pages to your cell phone or beeper in the event of warnings. The information is there and available, you just have to want it. It is not someone else’s responsibility to force it upon you.

  15. Cecil High says:

    I questioned someone ( a close friend) that is a major player in providing warning sirens all over the east coast and this is what he said
    “Florida can use sirens but the EMA directors in Florida tell me Florida does not have tornados. I guess the weather service was wrong. The storm that tore through Florida was not a tornado, The other comment these directors tell me is they see no use in warning these people because they have no where to go. To them, dying in your sleep is better than scaring these people.”

  16. kevin darveaux says:

    Seems sirens should be on the schedule for all counties in FL., the severe weather state of all! K. Darveaux

  17. Ross says:

    Last April in Central TN, we had EIGHT tornado touchdowns within a matter of a few hours! ONE approached immediately behind the college across the street from where my wife was at work!
    INTELLIGENT leadership can have the info on hand, instruct people what to do, but it is kinda like the horse! You can lead him to water, but you cannot make him drink.
    The manager at the store where my wife works “herded everyone” — customers, employees, adults & children alike — into a dairy cooler. WHY? It had an 8″ thick insulated ceiling ‘in case the roof collapses!’ The roof at the grocer did not collaps — altho the car dealership NEXT DOOR was 75% destroyed, and declared a total loss. Traffic signals in the county on the US Route were inoperable — no electric! The lines were down within 6-8 feet of the sidwalks.
    The Dean of the college moved ALL office employees (as well as students) into hallways where they’d be protected by cement block walls. His office and that of his secretary were completely destroyed. Number of injuries? 3 maintenance workers, trying to herd all the students into SAFE areas!
    My son’s comments were: “I know the Army said they will protect us from all risks of injury possible, but sending me 14 time zones away to avoid a tornado is a bit much!”
    Yer Hillbilly friend in TN…
    Ross
    PROUD father of an American Soldier

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