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Tampa Bay tornado damages downtown Tampa

TAMPA — A powerful gust of wind suddenly whipped open the doors and rattled the windows at the Hooters along Channelside Drive.

Outside, patio furniture was hurled about like toys.

Fearing the windows would shatter, general manager Rob Fisher ordered customers and employees to move farther inside the building.

Thirty seconds later, the wind stopped.

What Fisher and others experienced Tuesday was a brief but destructive tornado, the remnants of a water spout that churned to life in the bay near Davis Islands before moving over the Harbour Island bridge and becoming a low-level tornado.

"This was a very dangerous situation because it happened so quickly, and any tornado is dangerous,'' said Mike Clay, chief meteorologist with Bay News 9.

The tornado struck the Westin Tampa Harbour Island hotel, damaging the roof and awnings and scattering debris as a line of severe weather moved through west central Florida.

No injuries were reported from the tornado, which weather officials categorized as an F-0, with wind speeds of 40–72 mph.

"Probably the high side of that,'' said National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Noah, adding that waterspouts briefly becoming tornadoes is not unusual in Florida.

"It can happen quite often up and down our coast,'' he said.

Downed trees, minor structural damage and scattered power outages were reported around the region.

Wind gusts of 25 to 30 mph were typical as the front moved through the region.

In Cedar Key, where wind gusts were clocked at 91 mph, trees were snapped and debris scattered over a wide area, but no one was injured, Noah said.

Much of west central Florida got rain, with downpours reported from Wesley Chapel to Bradenton.

Progress Energy reported about 700 customers out of power at one point Tuesday afternoon, according to the company's outage map.

The biggest outage was in Pasco County, where six elementary schools postponed FCAT writing tests for their fourth-grade classes.

Beyond the Westin hotel, scattered damage also was reported near the downtown Tampa waterfront.

On Harbour Island, workers cleared debris from the entrance of the Westin resort, where part of the metal roof was blown away.

A block away on Harbour Place Drive, a broken light pole was on the ground, with shattered glass scattered across a sidewalk.

Along Channelside Drive, some businesses sustained damage.

At Taverna Opa restaurant, manager Rachel Prophet and other employees were about to open about 11:30 a.m. when the restaurant's large outside sign collapsed and shattered the glass front door.

There were no customers inside.

"We had just opened. Thank God," Prophet said. "Pretty wild."

The storms preceded a cold front expected to bring cooler temperatures over the next three days, followed by another cold front that will usher in some of the coldest temperatures of the season, with freeze warnings likely in some areas.

As Tampa Bay prepared for cooler temperatures, parts of the Midwest were getting battered Tuesday with more than a foot of snow.

Tampa Bay tornado damages downtown Tampa 02/26/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:19pm]
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