FL cleans up

A severe weather drill in Florida was canceled as residents coped with the real thing.

BY SUSAN KIM | CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. | February 25, 2004


A severe weather drill in Florida was canceled Wednesday as residents coped with the aftermath of the real thing damaged homes, rising rivers and extended flood watches.

Seven homes were destroyed and 33 were damaged in Citrus County, Fla., just north of Tampa on the state's west coast, said Mike Stone, public information officer for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Some areas saw five inches of rain in less than 12 hours.

Reports of wind and rain damage were also coming in Wednesday morning from the Ochlockonee Bay area, and north Florida was still under flood watches Wednesday morning, said Stone.

"We will be watching the rivers until the end of the week," he said.

A severe weather awareness drill scheduled for Wednesday was canceled while responders handled the real thing, he added. The drill was rescheduled for Friday.

"We didn't want any confusion with the rehearsal versus the real thing," he said. "It's been an interesting week."

Though Florida has more tornadoes during the summer than at any other time, late winter and early spring tornadoes tend to cause more damage in the state.

The most deadly tornadoes in Florida history have happened in the late winter and early spring months. During the cool season, the jet stream that flows east high above the United States dips south over the Gulf of Mexico. The jet stream picks up energy and moisture from the warm gulf waters. Strong thunderstorms can form into a squall line that can sweep across Florida.

When the winds near the ground change quickly and are different from the winds high in the jet stream, it can create wind shear. Wind shear can cause the thunderstorms to spin supercells that can move over land at 30 to 50 mph. These storms can produce strong winds (known as downbursts), large hail and violent tornadoes. Late winter and springtime tornadoes usually move from the southwest or west.

About 10 percent of thunderstorms in Florida are classified as "severe," that is, they produce dangerous winds or hail that will likely exceed thresholds known to cause significant damage to well-built structures or cause bodily harm. Severe thunderstorms produce hail the size of a dime or larger or winds of 58 miles per hour or greater.

Interior sections of central Florida receive the most thunderstorms with nearly 100 plus days per year. But thunderstorms are also frequent along coastal areas that average 80 to 90 days per year. Although Florida thunderstorms are generally less than 15 miles in diameter, they can grow vertically to great heights -- in excess of 10 miles high. This stacking effect of concentrated moisture can explain why a Florida thunderstorm directly overhead could produce four or more inches of rain in less than an hour while a location a few miles away may see only a trace.

Tornado Preparation Tips from the Florida Division of Emergency Management

Homes

When a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take action.

When a tornado warning is issued, or a tornado is imminent, move to a small interior room away from windows.

Consider constructing a tornado safe room in or adjacent to your home.

Open Country

Seek a nearby shelter if time permits.

If not, lie flat in the nearest depression, a ditch or culvert. Cover your head with your arms.

Vehicles

Abandon your vehicle and seek refuge in a building or, as a last resort, a ditch.

Do not try to outrun a tornado.

Offices, Hotels and Condominiums

When action is required, take shelter in an interior hallway on a lower floor, closet or small room.

As a last resort, get under heavy furniture, away from windows.

Manufactured and Mobile Homes

Have a plan of where to go during a tornado threat-a nearby pre-identified safe structure within walking distance.

When a tornado watch is issued, be prepared to take action.

Other Storm Preparedness Tips

As part of Severe Weather Awareness Week, the Florida Division of Emergency Management offered the following disaster preparedness tips:

Take First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness classes.

Listen to radio and TV.

Surf the Internet for up-to-date weather reports.

Buy a NOAA weather radio and test it weekly.

Discuss the types of disasters that could occur.

Identify a safe room in your home or that of a neighbor.

Plan escape routes from your home and places to meet.

Have an out-of-state family contact.

Have a plan for your pets.

Post emergency telephone numbers by your phone and make sure children know how and when to call 9-1-1.

Check your insurance coverage - flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.

Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a disaster supply kit that should include:

- A three-day supply of food and water, a change of clothing, a blanket or sleeping bag for each person and a first aid kit that includes medications.

-Emergency tools: Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, work gloves and a fire extinguisher.

-Important family documents in a fire and waterproof container, an extra set of keys, credit card and cash.

Replace batteries, not only in your smoke detector but also in your NOAA weather radio in the spring and fall when Daylight Saving Time changes.


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