A line of storms swept through the Tampa Bay area this morning, bringing strong winds, heavy rain, and even a relatively weak tornado in downtown Tampa.
The waterspout-turned-tornado blew into the mouth of the Hillsborough River around 11:15 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. A vacationing weather spotter snapped a picture of it as it came on land as an F0 tornado, producing winds as high as 60 mph.
Businesses in Channelside reported broken windows, a downed light pole, and damage to outdoor furniture. Several vehicles were damaged in the parking lot of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and a couch even wound up atop a highway sign by the Crosstown Expressway.
Davis Islands suffered the most damage. Neighbors along the Adalia Avenue neighborhood say the storm started with a roar.
"It just made a huge bang," recalled resident John Ackermann. "I thought the electricity had been hit, but in fact, we didn't lose electricity at all."
"It came on really quickly, without warning, and really only lasted about a minute," said John Giammarco, who also lives on Adalia Avenue.
VIDEO: Tornado on Davis Island: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10200879830137451
The tornado didn't take much time to do a lot of damage. A carport was torn to shreds, a basketball hoop was knocked over, and tree limbs littered the streets.
"I got a phone call from my husband saying, 'Don't panic, but we've had a tornado at our home,'" said resident Sandra Chancey.
Chancey had to dart through downed trees to find her home in havoc. The storm blew branches across her backyard all the way to her boat and sent outdoor furniture flying.
"The strange thing is how a tornado can actually take one thing down and then something as simple as a little lamp on a table, leave that sitting there still," she continued.
The storms were part of a much larger system sweeping across the Southeast. Counties up and down the coast saw storms, rain and high winds throughout the morning.
Patio furniture flies at Channelside restaurants
Employees and patrons at Channelside restaurants heard the storm approach.
"That howling noise that they say you hear ... the train noise," Taverna Opa Manager Rachel Prophet told FOX 13. "That's exactly what we heard."
Cook Keith Weitzman also quickly realized the weather had turned dangerous.
"I was in the kitchen. I heard like a freight train. I just heard soemthing very loud," he said.
The tornado touched down shortly after Taverna Opa opened for lunch. Prophet saw the wind rip the restaurant's awning right off.
"I instantly just started kind of walking slowly towards the door and (the awning) came and it hit the door," said Prophet. "It didn't break and it just flew up again and smashed the top part of our window and glass shattered everywhere."
The storm also rocked nearby Hooters. A light pole right outside of the restaurant snapped right in half like a toothpick. Manager Robert Fisher says a gloomy day turned violent quickly.
"Our patio furniture started flying. About that time, a couple of the overhangs across the way came up and flew up the center of the courtyard," said Fisher."
VIDEO: In the player above, Paul Dellegatto shows the water spout's path.
A charter bus full of tourists from Englewood, FL felt the sheer power of the tornado. The church group of about 55 people was sitting in the bus parked at Channelside outside of the Florida Aquarium
"This huge wind and rain came through and rocked the whole bus back and forth," All Around Charters driver Bob Hagemann said. "I had to close the door and keep the people inside because I thought they'd be in danger."
Passengers were a little nervous.
"We were on the bus and it was raining a little bit," said Marlene Russell. "Then, all the sudden it started to pour and the bus started to rock because of the wind. It really picked up. It was like a mini hurricane for a wihle."
People walking through downtown Tampa could barely hold on to their umbrellas and then suddenly, it was all over.
"Then after five or 10 minutes, it was gone. It was like a tornado came through," Davis Islands resident Linda Misner told FOX 13.
Eateries in Channelside worked quickly to have their restaurants back to business as usual in time for the dinner rush of people heading to Tuesday night's Tampa Bay Lightning game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
No injuries were reported at Channelside.
The heaviest of weather hit in the northern counties. Cedar Key in Levy County recorded a wind gust of 91 mph offshore. There were also reports of tree damage in that area.
Amazingly, no one was hurt during the tornado downtown. It's a silver lining that the Davis Islands neighbors are holding onto as they pick up the pieces in the storm's aftermath.
"It's actually scary. This is like a bomb blast. That's the kind of power those things pack," Ackermann added.
As the storms clear out, colder weather will settle in. This weekend's lows could dip into the 30's in some counties.
(Raw waterspout video above courtesy Tampa General Hospital.)
WJBK-TV | Fox 2
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