Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Season's first storm serves notice

Tropical Storm Andrea was no Debby.

It didn't put out the lights for more than 10,000 people and beat up on Tampa Bay for days. It didn't pilfer large swaths of sand from the beaches. It didn't kill or hurt people.

But it unleashed small but damaging tornadoes Thursday morning in Gulfport and Sun City Center. And it whipped up high winds, prompting the closure of the Sunshine Skyway bridge for much of the day.

In Tampa, Bayshore Boulevard was flooded and closed for hours. In Pinellas, school officials postponed two graduation ceremonies. Throughout Tampa Bay, residents knew that hurricane season — one predicted to be unusually active — was under way.

By late afternoon, most of the worst of the storm had passed. Unlike Debby, which lingered in the Gulf of Mexico for days last June, Andrea darted toward the state's Big Bend area, where it crashed ashore Thursday evening and was soon largely gone.

By 6:30 p.m., in some areas the sun came out.

•••

The most widespread affect of Andrea was rain.

By Thursday night, rainfall at Tampa International Airport was 4.1 inches, a new record for the day, according to Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik.

Largo had nearly 5 inches while St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport had 3.6. Rainfall was less in the North Suncoast. Hudson had 2.9 inches, and Brooksville had 1.6 inches.

High winds, which reached more than 50 mph in some areas, prompted the closure of the Sunshine Skyway bridge around noon until about 6:15 p.m. A set of downed power lines also closed the Gandy Bridge late in the day. It was reopened at 7 p.m.

Duke Energy reported that about 5,000 customers were without power late Thursday in the Tampa Bay area, most in Pinellas County. In Tampa, fewer than 700 remained without power Thursday evening, according to Tampa Electric Co.

Worries of rip currents and high surf prompted officials to close Clearwater Beach Thursday morning.

But the severe weather cleared quickly Thursday evening. A tornado watch for west-central Florida that had been issued until 10 p.m. Thursday was canceled about three hours early.

But earlier in the day, Andrea arrived with a bang.

•••

On N Pebble Beach Boulevard in Sun City Center, people checked their homes after a tornado ripped through their neighborhood.

At least five homes sustained minor damage: shattered windows, torn shingles and parts of lanais and porches ripped off.

Carole Bajanen said she got a weather alert on her cell phone about 3 a.m. Moments later, her blinds started to shake. She heard what sounded like a train. "The rumble you've heard so many times described on the news," she said.

It lasted less than a minute.

Across the street, Jean LaFleur awoke about 4 a.m. and saw the screened-in porch was missing.

"It could have been a lot worse," LaFleur said. "There's not much you can do."

Not too far away, clouds blew through South Tampa as parents walked their children into Gorrie Elementary at 705 W De Leon St.

Several parents said they checked the weather and the news before they left for school to make sure all was clear.

Later on, an end-of-year party at Gorrie was interrupted by a tornado warning, sending the students under desks as part of a "duck-and-cover" exercise. Several Hillsborough County schools had similar experiences.

At 10 a.m., a waterspout that became a tornado on Beach Boulevard in Gulfport sent a 200-year-old cedar tree into Yummy's restaurant.

Owners Lori Luczak and Richard Reale surveyed the damage later in the morning.

"It's starting to set in and devastate me now," Luczak said.

Reale tried to lighten the mood by joking about how great it will look when they clean it up.

"We've always wanted to put doors to the outside to serve ice cream," he said. "Maybe this will be our chance."

At the Humane Society of Pinellas in Clearwater, Andrea caused a kennel roof to collapse, displacing 20 dogs into conference rooms.

Nobody, canine or human, was hurt.

"We were all a little shaken up," said employee Abigail Kamleiter. "We heard the crash, stepped into our boots, ran outside and got them out of there in less than 15 minutes."

•••

Unlike in Debby, the Pinellas beaches appeared to be largely spared from widespread erosion during Andrea.

University of South Florida professor Ping Wang examined Upham beach, Pass-a-Grille, and Sunset and Sunshine beaches and said the damage seemed modest.

"This is much more minor than Debby," he said.

Still, the storm caused events to be canceled and plans to be changed — especially for some local high school graduates.

Two schools — Seminole and St. Petersburg high schools — postponed graduations.

At Countryside High, students got a call at 6:05 a.m. announcing that their graduation ceremony, originally planned for Bright House Field, would be moved to the school's gymnasium.

With sprinkles still falling late Thursday, the young scholars arrived at the school, some with black garbage bags covering their graduation gowns.

Times staff writers Zachary T. Sampson, Laura C. Morel, Anna M. Phillips, Craig Pittman, Will Hobson, Danielle Paquette, Tony Marrero and Alison Barnwell and correspondent Nicole Zakrzewski contributed to this report.

     
               
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