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2017 Florida tornado outbreak
Florida tornado outbreak radar.jpeg
WSR-88D imagery of storms across Florida

at 3:50 pm (EDT) on May 23, 2017.

Date of tornado outbreak: May 23, 2017
Duration1: 8 hours, 26 minutes
Maximum rated tornado2: EF5 tornado
Tornadoes caused: 35
Total Damages: >$5 billion (2016 USD)
Total Fatalities: 301
Areas Affected: Central Florida

1Time from first tornado to last tornado
2Most severe tornado damage; see wikipedia:Enhanced Fujita Scale

The 2017 Florida tornado outbreak was a very unusual tornado outbreak across the state of Florida that occurred on May 23, 2017. The EF5 that hit Mount Dora, Florida was first tornado of such intensity in the state; it killed 245 of 12,534 residents. The tornado was 3/4 of a mile (1.2 km) wide and tracked across the ground for 7.2 miles (11.6 km). The Lake and Golf Realty subdivision of the city was literally wiped off the face of the earth, with all 518 homes in the subdivision destroyed.


Meteorological Synopsis

In the late evening hours of May 22, a mesoscale convective complex had developed in Georgia and the southern portion of South Carolina. The MCS moved slowly eastward, generating gravity waves (outflow boundary) oriented from the northeast to the southwest that radiated away from the system as it eventually moved off of land and into the Atlantic. One of these gravity waves appears to have played a role in the initiation of the thunderstorm complex that eventually produced the tornado activity when it intersected the cold front in the vicinity of St. Augustine, causing the movement of the supercells and tornadoes later on to be in the southwest. However, this gravity wave moved south of the storm complex before the beginning of the tornado activity.

During the mid-afternoon and early evening of May 23, 2017, a severe weather outbreak produced numerous severe thunderstorms and multiple tornadoes across central Florida. The synoptic weather situation that occurred was an extremely atypical pattern for springtime Florida tornadoes. Most Florida tornadoes are usually associated with a “weak” meteorological pattern of typical thunderstorms that produce short-lived and often weak waterspouts. On this day, the 500 mb low center was located well to the northeast in the Atlantic, and the upper level jet stream axis was over northern Oklahoma. There was not a well defined low-level jet. A weak cold front extended from northeastern Florida in the St. Augustine area southwestward to near Bradenton. The numerous severe thunderstorms that occurred throughout central Florida developed in a situation of weak wind shear and high thermodynamic instability, along the surface boundary, where the greatest threat is typically strong winds and large hail. On this day in central Florida, there were 50 reports of severe weather—12 for large hail and 38 for tornadoes.

Confirmed tornadoes

Confirmed
Total
Confirmed
EF0
Confirmed
EF1
Confirmed
EF2
Confirmed
EF3
Confirmed
EF4
Confirmed
EF5
35 12 10 8 3 1 1


List of confirmed tornadoes - May 23, 2017
F# Location County Time (ET) Path length Max width Summary
EF0 N of Bimini Flagler 11:55-12:03 PM 0.4 mi 40 yd (37 m) Tornado remained over open country.
EF2 Bunnell Flagler 12:05-12:17 PM 2.2 mi 75 yd (69 m) Several mobile homes destroyed, and trees were uprooted in a western subdivision of Bunnell.
EF0 SW of Bunnell Flagler 12:20-12:24 PM 0.2 mi 50 yd (46 m) Tornado remained over open country.
EF0 SW of Bunnell Flagler 12:26-12:30 PM 0.2 mi 40 yd (37 m) Weak tornado remained stationary for much of its existence before dissipating.
EF1 SW of Bunnell Flagler 12:32-12:38 PM 0.5 mi 40 yd (37 m) Destroyed an old barn in a field.
EF1 SW of Cody's Corner Flagler, Volusia 12:44-12:45 PM 0.2 mi 50 yd (46 m) Brief tornado uprooted several trees; downed many others.
EF1 N of Pierson Volusia 12:54-12:59 PM 0.5 mi 40 yd (37 m) Brief tornado with damage limited to trees.
EF3 Pierson Volusia 1:06-1:19 PM 1.3 mi 275 yd (251 m) 3 deaths - Tornado touched down on the northern shores of Shaw Lake before crossing into Pierson, severely damaging a small neighborhood and destroying a number of trees.
EF3 Emporia Volusia 1:25-1:47 PM 3.2 mi 150 yd (140 m) A house and several outbuildings were destroyed after this tornado touched down in a small forested area. Numerous trees were uprooted and multiple vehicles were displaced by several hundred feet.
EF1 S of Emporia Volusia 1:52-2:07 PM 2.5 mi 40 yd (37 m) Tornado damaged a rest house at a state forest.
EF0 E of Alexander Springs area Lake 2:11-2:21 PM 1 mi 40 yd (37 m) Tornado formed over Stagger Mud Lake and moved through the surrounding forested area, snapping numerous trees.
EF0 SE of Alexander Springs area Lake 2:26-2:32 PM 0.5 mi 20 yd (18 m) Brief tornado caused no damage.
EF0 NE of Paisley Lake 2:35-2:47 PM 1.5 mi 30 yd (27 m) Tornado snapped many trees.
EF2 Paisley Lake 2:51-3:06 PM 2 mi 150 yd (140 m) 5 deaths - Tornado touched down in forested land before striking the western side of Paisley, hitting the Spring Creek Charter School directly and severely damaging the surrounding mobile homes.
EF0 S of Paisley Lake 3:11-3:21 PM 1 mi 60 yd (55 m) Tornado snapped many trees.
EF5 Eustis to Mount Dora Lake 3:25-4:10 PM 7.2 mi 650 yd (590 m) 245 deaths - See section on this tornado
EF2 Mount Dora Lake, Orange 4:16-4:31 PM 3.5 mi 150 yd (140 m) Tornado developed as a waterspout over Lake Ola before moving onshore and severely damaging numerous homes.
EF3 NE of Ferndale to S of Clermont Lake 3:46-4:21 PM 9.5 mi 200 yd (180 m) 12 deaths - See section on this tornado
EF1 S of Clermont Lake 4:27-4:40 PM 1.5 mi 20 yd (18 m) Tornado knocked over multiple trees and caused considerable damage to homes in its path.
EF0 S of Clermont Lake,Polk 4:48-5:18 PM 3.6 mi 40 yd (37 m) Tornado caused no known damage.
EF2 N of Polk City Polk 5:24-5:43 PM 2.1 mi 150 yd (140 m) Ripped several large trees from the ground and blew many others over, and severely damaged multiple structures along Commonwealth Ave.
EF2 NE of Polk City Polk 5:48-6:04 PM 1 mi 50 yd (46 m) Tornado uprooted several trees, as well as demolishing a trailer and multiple barns.
EF0 NE of Polk City Polk 6:07-6:22 PM 1.2 mi 40 yd (37 m) Tornado caused no known damage.
EF1 Lakeland Polk 6:25-6:45 PM 2.4 mi 60 yd (55 m) Tornado caused modest damage to several homes in a subdivision of Lakeland.
EF2 Lakeland Polk 6:50-7:21 PM 3.6 mi 100 yd (91 m) Severely damaged many homes in newly built subdivisions.
EF2 Lakeland Polk 7:26-7:47 PM 2.8 mi 150 yd (140 m) Tornado touched down just southwest of downtown Lakeland, damaging hundreds of homes and mobile homes; it then hit the Lakeside Village plaza, causing EF1 to EF0 damage to the complex before abruptly dissipating.
EF1 Lakeland Polk 7:53-8:18 PM 3 mi 50 yd (46 m) Tornado moved through several subdivisions, damaging hundreds of homes, some severely.
EF1 Mulberry to SW of Nichols Polk 8:23-8:39 PM 2.2 mi 40 yd (37 m) Tornado touched down on Highway 60 and damaged many homes in the Willow Oak subdivision of Mulberry before damaging every building in the tiny community of Nichols and dissipating.
EF0 W of Longboat Key N/A 6:20-6:26 PM 1.5 mi 30 yd (27 m) Offshore waterspout caused no damage.
EF0 W of Longboat Key N/A 6:31-6:35 PM 0.2 mi 20 yd (18 m) Offshore waterspout caused no damage.
EF1 Longboat Key Manatee 6:39-6:45 PM 2 mi 50 yd (46 m) Brief tornado moved quickly across Longboat Key, damaging several homes, a hotel, and a marina.
EF4 Bradenton, Sarasota, and Lakewood Ranch Manatee 6:51-7:28 PM 10.63 mi 440 yd (400 m) 36 deaths - See section on this tornado
EF2 Lakewood Ranch Manatee 7:34-7:48 PM 0.8 mi 45 yd (41 m) Homes suffered major damage, and multiple vehicles were thrown over one hundred yards.
EF1 E of Lakewood Ranch Manatee 7:53-8:08 PM 1.5 mi 40 yd (37 m) Moved through a housing development; damage mostly limited to 3 newly-built homes.
EF0 E of Lakewood Ranch Manatee 8:16-8:21 PM 0.4 mi 20 yd (18 m) Brief tornado snapped several trees and caused minimal damage to two homes before dissipating.

Notable tornadoes

EF5 Mt. Dora tornado

Mount Dora tornado

Mount Dora tornado over the Lake and Golf Realty subdivision, causing EF5 damage.

Initially a weak, pencil-like tornado upon touchdown in Eustis, the funnel rapidly intensified into a violent 3/4-mile-wide multi-vortex storm at around 3:37 pm EDT. The first intense damage occurred six minutes later as a line of 13 homes on Britt road were swept away, and an orchid nursery was demolished as well. The tornado reached its peak width as it struck the Lake and Golf Realty subdivision of Mt. Dora as a slow-moving wedge tornado, completely destroying the neighborhood. The tornado produced extreme ground scouring, as the earth at and around the Lake and Golf Realty subdivision was scoured out to a depth of 22 in (55.88 cm), reducing lush fields of grass and trees to wide expanses of mud. Extensive amounts of asphalt was torn from the roads down to the subgrade in the damage path. Over 1,000 structures were completely destroyed by the tornado and hundreds of vehicles were rendered unrecognizable after being thrown great distances, some more than half a mile. Some of the vehicles were pulverized into many pieces and strewn across fields or the town, and others were simply never found. The vehicles that remained relatively intact were sandblasted and completely caked with mud and grass. Telephone poles in the area were snapped off at the base and splintered, and trees were completely shredded and debarked. Many of the homes in the tornado's path were fairly new and well-constructed and bolted to their foundations, but the tornado left only the concrete slabs, and there was virtually no debris left throughout most of the damage path. The debris from the destroyed homes was finely granulated into small fragments, and scattered for long distances across the area. The tornado also picked up large amounts of loose soil as it deeply scoured the ground, producing a sandblasting effect on the houses and their occupants. The tornado's slow forward movement combined with its extreme intensity were likely the main factors as to why the damage it produced was so remarkably intense. Overall, were 245 human fatalities and over 400 injuries from this tornado.


EF3 Clermont tornado

Around the same time as the Mt. Dora EF5 tornado, another strong tornado formed about 20 miles to the south-southwest. Forming in the Ferndale Preserve, the tornado initially caused widespread EF0 to EF1 damage limited to trees. The tornado grazed the westernmost parts of Montverde before hitting the La Finca Stables, killing several horses and crossing the Florida Turnpike, striking the southeast portions of Minneola, causing sporadic EF2 damage. The tornado then crossed into Clermont, striking many well-built homes, causing high-end EF2 damage in a few instances. Three were killed in this area. The funnel exited the residential area and damaged a small addition across Citrus Tower Blvd before striking the Clermont Pediatrics, Superior Residences of Clermont, and the Clermont Town Center plaza in succession, causing more high-end EF2 damage. It then crossed FL-50 and struck another plaza, ripping the roof off of the AT&T store that was directly in the core of the tornado's path, indicating EF3 damage. The tornado also caused minimal EF1 damage to the Lowe's right next to the plaza. The tornado passed over Wilma Lake before directly striking the Epic Theatres of Clermont, causing EF3 damage to the plaza, with the collapse of several external walls and severe damage to the roof of the theater being noted. Eight people were killed in the theater. The tornado pressed south-southwest, causing EF1 damage to a BJ's as it moved across the Clermont Crossings parking lot, mangling and throwing many vehicles considerable distances. It then moved into the South Lake subdivision, causing widespread damage, with some instances of EF3 damage visible; one person was killed in this area. The tornado continued on into the Orange Mountain addition, causing EF1-EF0 damage as it began to weaken. The tornado eventually moved out over Lake Louisa and dissipated after traveling over the lake for nearly half a mile. In total, the tornado killed 12 people, injured over 200, caused over $1 billion in damages, and traveled for 9.5 miles.


EF4 Bradenton tornado

About 90 minutes after the Mt. Dora and Clermont tornadoes, another strong tornado formed in Sarasota bay. The tornado rapidly intensified to EF3 strength, causing damage to a marina on shore and many homes in the Bayshore Gardens subdivision. The tornado further strengthened to EF4 intensity as it struck the Trailer Estates several minutes later, causing dramatic damage to the area because of the trailers, many of which were completely demolished and swept away; 12 people were killed in this area alone. Exiting the subdivision, the tornado struck a shopping plaza, severely damaging the buildings of the complex before crossing 14th Street W (State Highway 41) and directly hitting a Quality Inn hotel, causing extreme damage to the building's internal frame. It continued into a housing addition, demolishing many of the homes there, some remaining as nothing more than a pile of debris. The tornado then tracked across the Sara Bay Country Club gulf course, scouring grass from the ground while doing so. The tornado damaged many businesses that included condos and apartment homes, as well as two 7-Elevens, a bank and a trucking plant as it closely paralleled Whitfield Avenue, causing mostly EF3 damage with some of the buildings being completely destroyed, indicating EF4 damage. A C&M Road Builders facility was struck, where heavy equipment was mangled and thrown considerable distances, some more than 200 yards. The tornado then moved through multiple subdivisions, damaging hundreds of homes as it began to narrow and weaken. It then crossed the I-75 and struck Lakewood Ranch, causing EF1 to EF0 damage as it sharply turned to the northeast and dissipated after traveling 10.63 miles with a maximum width of 440 yards, killing 36 in total.


Aftermath

Damage

On May 24, the day after the outbreak, a major disaster declaration was signed for 4 counties due to the extensive damage and loss of life that occurred. The American Red Cross opened ten shelters overnight across central Florida, housing over 2,500 people immediately following the disaster. By May 25, this number had lowered to just over 800. Throughout May 25, several post-disaster teams from FEMA were deployed to the region, including emergency response and preliminary damage assessment units. Initial surveys estimated that about 20% of the structures in Mount Dora were destroyed due to the EF5 tornado, a figure that later stuck; as the northeastern portion of the city was virtually gone, and the tornado left little for rescue workers to sift through. One rescue worker, who arrived within minutes of the tornado from the local fire department, said that he was amazed at “how quiet it was… no one was yelling for help, no dogs were barking, there were no sounds at all except rain falling on the dirt.” The United States Department of Defense placed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on standby for assistance. Medical and mortuary teams were also sent by the Department of Health and Human Services. By May 26, donation centers and phone banks were being established to create funds for victims of the tornadoes.

In Bradenton, much debris scattered across the city due to the Trailer Estates being hit as the tornado was further strengthening, which caused most travel in the city to be shut down, including the nearby Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which was narrowly missed by the tornado, as the northernmost runways were just over a mile south of the tornado's circulation. EF3 with instances of EF4 damage occurred through much of the path of this tornado, which consisted of Bradenton, extreme northern Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch. Continuing search and rescue efforts for hundreds of people who were listed as missing through May 27 were assisted by urban search and rescue dogs from across the country. Nearly 1,000 members of the Florida National Guard were deployed throughout the affected region. On May 28, disaster recovery centers were opened in Mount Dora, Clermont and Bradenton for individuals recovering from the tornadoes. Within the first few days of the disaster declaration, relief funds began being sent to families who requested aid. Debris removal finally began on June 2 as seven cleanup teams were sent to the region, more were expected to join over the following days. That day, FEMA also declared that 3 counties − Lake, Polk and Manatee− were eligible for federal financial assistance. By June 3, roughly $1.6 million in disaster funds had been approved for housing and businesses loans. This quickly rose to more than $5.9 million over the following five days.

EF5 rating debate

In the immediate days after the tornado, there was some debate among meteorologists as to whether or not the Mount Dora tornado's rating should remain at EF4 or be increased to EF5. The debate in part was sparked by the tornado's slow forward speed, which was about 8 mph at most, likely exposing some of the homes in the center of the damage track to tornadic winds for as much as three solid minutes, which may have exacerbated the destruction to some extent. Most of the homes in the Lake and Golf Reality subdivision were found to be well-constructed during later analysis. Another argument that led to the tornado's upgrade was that there had been several other slow-moving tornadoes in the years prior to this event under the Enhanced Fujita Scale, but did not cause anywhere near the damage observed in Mount Dora. Because the Enhanced Fujita Scale is a damage scale, the surveys conducted were focused more on the empty foundations and not specifically on the other damage indicators, which led surveyors to eventually award an EF5 rating a week later on May 30.

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