A Preventable Tragedy

| February 3, 2007 @ 2:10 pm | 17 Replies

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.

https://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.

https://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…

https://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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Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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