A tornado toppled trees and smashed cars in Plantation after midnight Tuesday ahead of a robust cold front expected to drop temperatures into the 50s this morning in coastal Palm Beach County and the 40s inland.
The National Weather Service in Miami confirmed a squall line that swept quickly through South Florida in the early hours of Tuesday produced the EF-1 tornado, which packed 95 mph winds.
It struck at a community south of Sunrise Boulevard and west of Florida’s Turnpike between 1:18 a.m. and 1:27 a.m., cutting a hopscotch-style path 4.75-miles long from Cooper City to Plantation.
While no injuries were reported, there were some tense moments for resident Frank Kelly, who said he heard the wind building ominously.
“I got nervous because it just got much louder than I’ve ever heard it,” Kelly said. “I thought maybe it could be a tornado, but it was over in 30 seconds, and when I looked out my window, I couldn’t see anything, so I went to bed.”
Kelly didn’t hear the massive tree outside his home get uprooted and fall on his car. It wasn’t until the police knocked on his door that he knew his 2003 Chevrolet Venture was a goner.
“I’m kind of in the market now for a new car,” he said.
Forecasters had been warning Monday there was a chance for strong thunderstorms, but the severe weather was expected more along the west coast of the state.
As the storms slowed their easterly march throughout the day, the area under a “marginal threat” for severe weather kept getting larger. By 9 p.m., Palm Beach County and parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties were included in the marginal threat level — the first on a five-tier severe weather scale.
Two tornado warnings were issued for Palm Beach County at 12:33 a.m. and 12:37 a.m. Two marine warnings and a significant weather advisory also rang out, waking people in areas from Jupiter to Boca Raton.
Tony Reynes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said no damage has been reported in Palm Beach County and that the delay of the squall line’s advance is why the risk area kept expanding.
“Initially they thought it was going to be early in the evening, but it ended up being closer to midnight,” Reynes said. “Normally when you have a cold front like this, they have enough energy to generate thunderstorms. That’s what cold fronts do.”
An especially moist atmosphere provided more energy to the thunderstorms along coastal Palm Beach and Broward counties, said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center, which issues the “marginal” to “high” weather alerts.
The cold front was part of the strong winter storm that hit the Northeast Tuesday, grounding thousands of flights nationwide, triggering a travel ban in Connecticut and blanketing states from Maryland to Maine in sleet and snow.
Some areas west of Philadelphia got up to 18 inches of snow by midday Tuesday, inland areas of Connecticut were up to 15 inches, with inland Massachusetts at 16 inches.
While people mostly heeded dire warnings to stay home and off the roads, police said a 16-year-old girl was killed when she lost control of her car on a snowy road and hit a tree in Gilford, N.H., according to the Associated Press.
New York City escaped the worst of the snow, with just a few inches falling instead of the foot or more initially expected.
Tuesday’s tornado was the eight reported in Florida this year, including the Jan. 23 tornado that tore a 6-mile path through Palm Beach Gardens and Juno Beach.
Reynes said March and April are the most active months typically for tornadoes in South Florida because late-season cool fronts interact with warming spring air spawning strong thunderstorms.
“Spring is that perfect meet point between still having cold fronts penetrating all the way to Florida and air masses in the Gulf and Atlantic starting to warm up again,” Reynes said. “So we’re not out of the woods yet as far as these kinds of storms.”
In South Florida, northwest winds overnight were expected to push wind child values into the 40s throughout Palm Beach and Broward counties this morning.
But tonight and Thursday morning are forecast to be the coldest this week with some temperatures dropping as low as the upper 30s in Glades, Hendry and Collier counties.