NEW: Why South Florida’s summer afternoon storms have been so intense


Thunderstorms continued to rock Palm Beach County’s afternoons this week as low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico gave South Florida a dose of tropical moisture with frosty temperatures aloft.

That trend continued Friday — by 1:30 p.m., virtually all of the county was getting some form of rain — drizzle or downpours.

The storm cells have been very intense, especially for the summer afternoon storms that are typical in Florida.

The reason — that cold air high in the atmosphere worked to strengthen storms when the June warmth rocketed upward, knocking frozen droplets of water together to form lightning and send down bursts of up to 60-mph winds.

VIDEO: Storms whip up waterspouts and hail in Florida Keys

On Friday afternoon, the frightening cracks of thunder could be heard over West Palm Beach and the western suburbs around 1:30 p.m. followed by torrential rains from Tequesta to Boca Raton. Within 90 minutes, Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach was under water as drivers unwisely tried to slog through.

In Wellington, the storm hovered overhead past lunchtime, soaking office workers as they sprinted from restaurants near the Mall at Wellington Green to their cars.

READ: Florida shatters rain record by an astonishing margin

Flooding was reported Friday in parts of Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens and around 2 p.m., Palm Beach Fire Rescue had suspended all outdoor activity and told personnel to get to safety until lightning strikes passed.

Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami, said June is typically the most active month for thunderstorms in South Florida.

But some extra juice was added by an upper-level area of low pressure in the eastern Gulf of Mexico pushing in moisture on westerly winds that smacked into the Atlantic sea breeze.

READ: Think you survived a Cat 4 hurricane last year… not even close

“We also have had a diffuse boundary across Central Florida which is acting to focus the thunderstorms first over Central Florida and the Gulf Coast, then the west-northwest winds push the storms in our direction later in the day,” Molleda said. “The strength of the storms and the amount of lightning are directly related to the amount of instability in the atmosphere.”

The South Florida evenings have turned into spectacular displays of heat lightning, also known as silent lightning, with faint flashes from distant thunderstorms. Typical of summer in Florida, the cloud-to-ground lightning is from far away storms with thunder dissipating before it reaches the observer. Flashes can be seen up to 100 miles but the sound does not carry as far.

Molleda said afternoon storms are a “fairly common June pattern,” and one that we’ve been experiencing on and off since mid-May when the rainy season roared to life.

The Thursday night Food Truck and Music Series at the Ampitheater was cancelled because of the rain as was Thursday’s Riviera Beach Mayor’s Family & Friends Day concert.

On Wednesday, the force knocked over at least one massive tree in Boca Raton, ripped loosely constructed gazebo roofs off their frames, spun up waterspouts in the Florida Keys and threw down pea-sized hail in Cudjoe Key.

Bystanders stopped to take pictures while an insurance agent assessed the damage from a large, fallen tree in Boca Raton on Thursday.

The tree, with it’s roots ripped from the ground, was sprawled across the lawn of a corner home, its trunk hovering above a sidewalk and its branches resting atop a vehicle in the driveway.

Dicxon Carrasquel, who is renting the home on SW 54th Avenue, says that, despite the tree’s size, he didn’t hear anything when the tree fell. Instead Carrasquel was in for an unwelcome surprise when he opened his front door to go to work at around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and saw the tree strewn across his lawn.

Though some people believe that a tornado may have moved through the area on Wednesday, Carrasquel is unsure whether it was a tornado or just an intense storm that toppled the tree.



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