Annmarie Davies heard banging on the roof, set her Whopper burger down and looked out the window. "It's hailing," said Davies, 45. The weather seemed fine about 6 p.m. Monday when she got to her house on Jessamine Road in north Pasco County. Her mobile home is surrounded by at least two dozen trees, which are lush and inviting — when the weather is nice.
The trees rattled. The hail was the size of quarters. Then the lightning kicked in. Davies took a swig of her Sprite and ate half of her burger, and then heard a terrible sound: sucking and cracking and shuddering all at once.
She peeked out her window.
The power pole on the corner lifted straight up in the air. It flew and twisted and then crashed down.
A massive, old gnarled tree next to it did the same thing — snapped, lifted, flew, fell.
"I have to leave," she told herself.
She sent a text message to her husband, in Jacksonville on business.
"It's bad," she wrote. "I've got to get out of here."
She grabbed her dog, a boxer named Brutus, and together they ran outside, in the rain, in the hail, in the lightning, everything swirling and crashing around them. The storm turned everything dark. The only light was from the bursts of electricity arcing from the broken pole.
Even while she was doing this, Davies knew it was not wise. But she couldn't stop herself. She and Brutus tore out of her yard in her blue Ford Fiesta and gunned it. A 55-mph speed limit sign, ripped from where it was posted a few streets north, flew in the wind past her window as she sped away. The storm passed quickly. It took Davies an hour to get to her daughter's house, which was only a few miles away.
Many roads were blocked with trees downed in the storm, which hit most severely just east of Interstate 75, south of the Pasco-Hernando border — Jessamine, James and Blanton roads. There were no reports of injuries.
Regan Harper, who works for the Pasco County Public Works Department, was out there till midnight clearing roads and was back out again at 7 a.m. Tuesday. He said at least a dozen trees fell.
"There were trees everywhere," he said. "It was a mess."
Officials said what happened Monday night was not a tornado. It was a storm with 60 mph straight-line winds, said Jennifer McNatt, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
"It was a nightmare," said Davies, who came back home to survey the damage Tuesday morning. Her home was intact. None of the trees bordering it fell. Her trash can blew away. Her heart still felt like it was beating too fast.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.