Tornadoes have a deadly history in Central Florida during severe weather season

Tornado Awareness Day reminds residents it can happen

Thunderstorms and tornadoes

ORLANDO, Fla. – Springtime and severe weather go hand in hand in Central Florida.

In fact, the National Weather Service has a day dedicated to reminding residents that during severe weather, tornadoes are possible. Tornadoes frequent east Central Florida more than you think.

Tornado damages from 2007 and 1998 outbreak in February. (NWS)

There are two years where deadly tornadoes stick out in Central Florida history. Let’s take a look back.

Groundhog Day 2007

Instead of starting the second day of February finding out if there will be 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring, Central Florida news outlets were covering devastation from a tornado break out earlier that morning.

A supercell thunderstorm moved east to northeast across the peninsula pounding 75 miles from Sumter county to the Volusia coast and producing three tornadoes in the process. All this happened in less than two hours before sunrise.

The first two tornadoes were rated EF-3 and the last one deemed an EF-1.

The first tornado moved into Lake County at 3:08 a.m. and traveled 16.5 miles and taking eight lives before dissipating. Shortly after, at 3:37 a.m. another tornado moved from Lake into Volusia County, travelling 26 miles before falling apart. That tornado killed 13 people.

The final tornado that morning was in eastern Volusia near I-95 when it formed at 4:22 a.m. It was able to travel three miles, luckily not claiming anymore lives.

Central Florida tornado outbreak of 1998

It was the night of Feb. 22, 1998 when seven tornadoes ripped through Central Florida.

An area of strong low pressure was moving in from the west ushering in a lot of moisture and warmth ahead of it. The unstable air mass set the stage for three supercell thunderstorms that night which lingered and spawned the violent tornadoes.

Synoptic set up for tornado outbreak of 1998 (NWS)

Of those seven tornadoes, three of them were rated EF-3 which impacted Lake, Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties. Tornadoes of that magnitude can uproot trees, deconstruct homes, throw cars and even overturn a train.

Two other tornadoes were rated EF-2 which does similar damage. In all an estimated 100 million dollars in damage was left behind. The worst was the loss of life. Reports show 42 people were killed and over 250 people were injured.

National Weather Service storm damage assessment reports suggest that because these tornadoes happened in the middle of the night, most people were sleeping, and therefore there were more deaths from those who may not have heard the warnings broadcast.

This chart shows the time of day a tornado occurred in relation to the death toll. (NWS)

The most active period for tornadoes in Central Florida is May through October. There are plenty of storms and most of the tornadoes that form are usual small of brief. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean they can’t form outside that time period. The NWS says large, long-track tornadoes can happen during spring or winter too. This is most favorable during an El-Nino pattern and, regardless of the pattern each individual storm can have conditions that turn favorable for tornadic development.

The best bet is to stay weather aware and have a severe weather plan which should include a safe place to go in the event tornado warnings are issued.


About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.