A possible tornado tore through a Sunrise, Fla. neighborhood on Tuesday night. Over a dozen homes were left with serious damage, including torn off roofs and uprooted trees. The 2 mile-long trail of damage shows all the signs of a tornado.
Dangerous weather in South Florida led to a twister touching down in West Broward, causing property damage, trapping residents in their homes, leaving fallen trees blocking roads, even flinging a Jacuzzi across a neighborhood.
A tornado watch for South Florida, originally in effect until 6 a.m. Wednesday, has been lifted after a night that produced at least two twisters – in West Broward and Glades counties.
The one that touched down near Sunrise was unusually powerful for South Florida, said Robert Molleda, a National Weather Service meteorologist who was part of a team that surveyed the damage. The preliminary assessment: An EF2, producing winds between 111 and 135 mph, on a measure of tornado strength called the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
“It was a strong tornado, period,’’ he said. “For South Florida, it was something very strong. Maybe we’ll have one or two a decade.’’
Along the twister’s path in West Broward, daybreak in Sunrise allowed residents hardest hit and city public works employees to assess damage.
Massive trees were toppled over, and several trailer homes along Commodore Drive were ripped apart — roofs peeled open, metal awnings bended into obscure shapes, and long strips of metal hung from tree limbs like ornaments.
Joel Cussell says his Sunrise home sustained extensive damage, including a shattered bedroom window. But he told WLRN-Miami Herald News that many houses around him were left in far worse shape.
"All of the sudden I heard this big ’whoosh’ of wind, then the lights went out, and I said [to my family]: ‘We’re out of here.’
“I’ve got trash cans, roof debris, large pieces of tar paper that was adhered from the roof. Now they’re just like giant weapons,” he said.
Hugo de Ferrari walked outside of his two story peach colored home on a cul de sac of Northwest 133rd Ave and 11th Court snapping pictures of a massive tree flipped upside down in front of his home. The tree was from two houses down and had been lifted by the strong winds to now cover the black Hummer parked in his driveway.
"I have a Jacuzzi in my backyard," de Ferrari said. "I don’t’ know where it came from, but it’s there now."
Ferrari recalled how Hurricane Wilma in 2005 brought the neighborhood together, and how Wednesday night’s storm did the same.
"I had neighbors yelling, ’Hugo! Hugo! Are you OK?’ when they saw the tree outside," he said. "This is when you really feel the sense of community."
Several homes were struck after 10 p.m. near Northwest 133rd Avenue and Eighth Street in Plantation, said Fire Battalion Chief Joel Gordon said. “The damage is pretty severe in some spots.” Gordon said. He had no further details, but said minor injuries were reported.
In Sunrise, a fire dispatcher said residents had reported property damage in the same area. Eighth Street is the dividing line between Sunrise and Plantation.
“We’ve had preliminary reports of roofs ripped off homes and of at least one house totally destroyed,” said National Weather Service forecaster David Ross.
The storm system had moved north from West Miami-Dade into Broward, moving across Pembroke Pines, Davie and into Sunrise. It continued into western Palm Beach County and points north.
Libby Volgyes/ Palm Beach Post
Rain pours as a pedestrian crosses the street in West Palm Beach Tuesday morning.
5:10 a.m. update: The tornado warning for South Florida is canceled.
Multiple power outages are being reported throughout Palm Beach County as storms make their way northeast, while a tornado touchdown has been reported in Sunrise.
The Florida Power and Light Power Tracker website is reporting outages from Lantana to West Palm Beach to Jupiter. The most severe outages, however are being reported outside of the county, with more than 2,000 people without power in Indiantown, west of Warfield Boulevard and more than 1,000 people without power in Sunrise.
National Weather Service forecasters say they have received reports of tornado touchdowns in the cities of Sunrise and Indiantown, but will remain unconfirmed until staffers are sent to survey the damage in the morning.
At 10:30 p.m., a Sunrise Police Department dispatcher confirmed that the city's fire rescue and police departments were responding to an incident in the 13300 block of Northwest 8th Court where it "seems" that a tornado may have touched down. The dispatcher said "one or two" houses had received damage, but no additional information was immediately available.
The tornado watch, which was issued at 9:55 p.m. tonight for South Florida, was to remain in effect until 6 a.m. Wednesday, but was canceled at 4:20 a.m..
St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties remain under a tornado watch until 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Forecasters say that the storms making their way through South Florida will bring dangerous wind gusts of up to 70 mph and frequent, dangerous lightning.
South Florida will also remain under a gale warning and a flood watch, both of which will expire at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
In addition to the heavy rain and gusty winds, numerous tornadoes could form tonight throughout Southern Florida, Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Robert Molleda said.
Molleda said storms that pose a tornado threat will be caused by the disturbance that is moving across the state.
Heavy rains around the lake
Earlier today, around 7:45 p.m., the northern half of Lake Okeechobee received heavy rains - the same area hard hit by record-setting rainfall 10 days ago.
However, the recent torrential rains that have soaked the southern half of Florida since Sunday have not prompted water managers to release water from Lake Okeechobee. The stormwater seen rushing out of flood control structures along the county's east coast on Tuesday comes from swollen swales, community retention ponds and canals.
"The rain over the last few days has saturated the ground," said Tommy Strowd, director of the operations, maintenance and construction division at the South Florida Water Management District. "We have to move the water into canals and out to the ocean to prevent flooding."
Lake Okeechobee continues to rise about one inch a day, mostly from the record-setting rainfall north of the lake about 10 days ago. The lake level is at 12.01 feet today, about 18 inches lower than it was at this time last year. Despite the recent rains, the lake remains in the water shortage category, Strowd said.
"We are not releasing water from the lake," he said.
Still, the sight of water being flushed to tide after a dire drought earlier this year is troubling -- to water managers and to onlookers who for months have abided by lawn watering restrictions -- and highlights the region's lack of storage. The district is moving as much water as it can into stormwater treatment areas west of Wellington on Southern Boulevard, where plants can slowly clean nutrients from the polluted water.
"We don't have a lot of opportunity to move water to other locations," Strowd said.
Widespread showers with some spots of heavy rainfall in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast will continue through Wednesday as a disorganized blob of bad weather continues to plod north. Monday's prediction that the patch had a 60 percent chance of turning into a tropical storm have been dropped to zero.
Wednesday promises a 70 percent chance of rain, winds up to 21 mph and high temperatures near 87.
But Wednesday night a cold front moves into South Florida, helping us dry out and delivering temperatures that top out around 78 degrees Thursday afternoon and drop into the mid 50s Thursday night.