Seminole County, NWS continue partnership to keep Floridians safe in the event of a tornado

Severe Weather Awareness Week reminds residents to have a plan when severe weather strikes

Thunderstorms and tornadoes

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – For the seventh year in a row, “The Great Tornado” community-wide drill went off in an effort to remind residents tornadoes can happen and they will again.

Why practice? It’s simple. To remind residents to have a plan when severe weather strikes. Practice makes perfect, right? It’s better to be prepared and know what to do when a tornado threat happens. Having a plan to put in motion can save lives.

The drill was originally started when the Seminole County Office of Emergency Management and National Weather Service-Melbourne partnered in 2015 during Severe Weather Awareness Week. Now, the drill has been adopted through all 67 counties in the Sunshine State, and it ran early Wednesday morning.

It’s more than just hearing the drill commence and waiting for it to end. Meteorologists and emergency officials want members of each community to know how they would receive a tornado warning, what the plan of action would be, and to know which room is the safest to take shelter in whether at work or at home.

Knowing answers to those three questions can save lives.

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

Groundhog Day 2007

Instead of starting the second day of February finding out if there would be six more weeks of winter or an early spring, Central Florida news outlets were covering devastation from a tornado outbreak 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 of this happened in less than two hours before sunrise.

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

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

The first tornado moved into Lake County at 3:08 a.m. and traveled 16.5 miles, 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 Interstate 95 when it formed at 4:22 a.m. It was able to travel three miles, luckily not claiming any more 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 trains.

Two other tornadoes were rated EF-2, which will do similar damage. In all, an estimated $100 million 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 usually small or brief. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean they can’t form outside of that time period. The NWS said large, long-track tornadoes can happen during spring or winter as well. This is most favorable during an El Niño 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. For a more in-depth look on how to stay safe during a tornado click here.

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.