Local News

It's Florida's peak tornado period

SEBRING - Large, slow moving, tricky to forecast, are some of the words meteorologists used to describe Tropical Storm Debby, as it churned in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. But, sadly, in Highlands County, fatal and damaging from a tornado outbreak, also describes the tropical storm. Storm Team 8 WFLA Meteorologist Megan Hatton said with the dynamics of this particular storm, all the moisture and the tornadic activity was at the eastern edge of the storm. "Typcially, you would see it more on the eastern side of the storm, and this one really kind of verified that and went full blown east," she said.
A tornado threat normally accompanies a land falling hurricane or tropical storm because it is a disturbed area with a large low pressure center, she explained. The spinning low introduces a lot of spin into the atmosphere. The bands that fly off the tropical system also tend to have a little bit of rotation in them. The outer bands can spiral over land even though a storm is up to 300 miles off shore, she said. The peak months for tornadoes in Florida are May through July. According to the Tornado History Project, from February 1964 through January 2011, 40 tornadoes hit Highlands County, resulting in one fatality and 18 injuries. Prior to Sunday's lone tornado fatality in Venus, the only other fatal tornado in Highlands County occurred on Feb. 2, 1983 at 5400 CR-17 S., Desoto City, according to the Tornado History Project . One person died and six people were injured. If a tornado approaches your home, experts agree to seek shelter in an interior room on the lowest floor. What to do during a tornado threat while driving is not so clear cut. NOAA advises not to try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately. National Weather Service (Ruskin) Senior Forecaster John Jelsema said during a tornado warning, if you are in a vehicle and there is no place to go, "You don't want to get out of your vehicle, obviously, you just want to stay in your vehicle, which will offer some shelter. "Your best bet is to try the best you possible can to get inside the lowest floor of a sturdy structure." Hatton said the National Weather Service advises to abandon your vehicle if you see a tornado and take shelter in a low-lying area like a ditch or culvert. "In Florida, every situation is unique and in Florida we really can't take shelter in any of the ditches or culverts because they are probably filled with water or they are probably filled with gators," she said. "So it's a situation where you will probably have to outweigh your risks and benefits and then decide." Don't seek shelter under an overpass because the wind underneath can accelerate as it's being funneled under the overpass, Hatton cautioned. Also, when you are at home, don't follow the myth about opening windows before a tornado approaches, in order to equalize pressure and minimize damage. Opening windows allows damaging winds to enter the structure, NOAA notes. Leave the windows alone; instead, immediately go to a basement, interior room or bathroom without windows. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned. Here's a reminder about the difference between a tornado "watch" and "warning." A "tornado watch" means tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms. A "tornado warning" is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. If a tornado warning is issued for your area and the sky becomes threatening, move to your pre-designated place of safety.

mvalero@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5826