SPRING HILL — Zel McDowell was nervously waiting for her husband to make it home from work on Tuesday afternoon, peering outside regularly to monitor the gray skies and driving rain. The darkening seemed ominous.
"It was lousy weather," McDowell said. "It looked like the sky was going to come down."
No, not the sky. Only the towering oak tree on the right side of her home.
The tree came crashing down into the house at 12212 Fillmore St. about 5 p.m., authorities say, virtually splitting the residence in half and causing thousands of dollars in damage to the 27-year-old home. McDowell was the only one in the house at the time and managed to escape — almost miraculously — without any injuries.
"If I had been in the garage, I wouldn't be here," she said Wednesday, filling a bucket with water from a neighbor's garden hose outside the home.
The fallen tree was one of the more visible signs of damage wrought by a band of thunderstorms that swept through the Tampa Bay area, including parts of Hernando County, on Tuesday afternoon. The storms brought menacing winds and left much of the west central coast on alert for tornadoes. However, the National Weather Service issued no reports of twisters.
There were no injuries or reports of serious damage throughout the county on Tuesday, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. David Lambert, a spokesman with the Withlacoochee River Electric Co-op, said there were some outages related to the storms but nothing out of the ordinary.
Not counting, of course, the extraordinary damage to the McDowell's home of the past two years.
As the rain and wind came down with unusual ferocity, McDowell was sitting in the house and awaiting the arrival of her husband, Thomas, from his job in Tampa. She had planned to spend some time painting in the garage but was distracted by a phone call.
While she was chatting away on the phone, McDowell heard a loud "kaboom" on the right side of the home.
"I said to myself, 'Someone just got it big,' " she said. "Then I heard water running in the house."
Frightened, McDowell went into another room and saw a branch coming through the roof and into the house. She called her disbelieving husband to tell him about the damage. "I thought that was it," she said.
But then McDowell went deeper into the home to inspect the damage and found that the old, sturdy oak that had provided shade during those broiling Florida summers had fallen. She made it outside, turned around to inspect the wreckage and broke into tears.
"We put everything into this house," she said. "We had just gotten through fixing it up."
On Wednesday, McDowell and her husband stood outside assessing the damage and trying to salvage what they could from the home — almost everything in the garage is lost. Insurance will cover almost everything, and the couple is looking for a furnished apartment to rent for a couple of months closer to Tampa while repairs are made to their home.
Though the tree nearly bisected the front part of the house, Roy Stines of Stines Disaster Recovery in Clearwater said the home could be salvaged. The repairs could take as long as six months, Stines said.
"The only difference in this and normal hurricane damage is that this is isolated to the garage area," Stines said. "I don't want to downplay it ... but the home is definitely salvageable."
And once the McDowells move back into their home, they've already got plans for the two tall pines in their back yard.
"We were always more worried about those," Thomas McDowell said. "Those are definitely coming down."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or