Storm batters Hernando, but was there a tornado?

SPRING HILL — A powerful winter storm roared through central Hernando County late Tuesday afternoon, knocking down trees and power lines and scattering pieces of homes among the trees.

No injuries were reported, officials said.

One local couple watched in fear as a funnel cloud formed outside their Spring Hill home around 4:30 p.m.

"I was standing right by the table and I looked out the window and (the wind) was swirling and swirling," said Rob Arrastia of 14021 Amero Lane. "I watched it form in the middle of the road and then touch down. That's when I yelled for (his family) to get in the hallway.''

Arrastia estimated the funnel cloud was about 25 to 30 feet at its base.

"I thought the roof was literally going to come off,'' said Gina Barna, who was in the house at the time. "You know how they say it sounds like a freight train? That's exactly what it sounded like.''

Arrastia later spotted part of his wooden fence atop a neighbor's roof.

Residents along Godfrey Avenue east of Coronado Drive reported that a tornado hit their neighborhood, destroying sheds and damaging roofs.

High winds destroyed a pool enclosure at 2091 Godfrey Avenue and blew out windows in neighboring houses. Shingles and pieces of sheds were flung into trees.

"We got the dog in from out back and the windows started shaking. We just ran into the bathroom and got into the tub,'' said Brian Karahalios of 2080 Godfrey Avenue

"You just heard the wind and you heard things start to fly,'' said Deanna Magid, who lives with Karahalios and who took their baby into the tub with them to ride out the storm.

Reports of tornadoes touching down in Spring Hill and Masaryktown had not been confirmed by Tuesday evening, emergency management director Cecilia Patella said.

A team will be working today to survey the damage and try to confirm whether damage resulted from tornadoes or straight line winds, Patella said.

"The fire departments are going around marking locations for us to go assess," Patella said. "I don't want to send anyone out in dangerous conditions."

Officials with the Red Cross stood ready Tuesday to render aid to any residents dislocated due to heavily damaged homes, Patella said.

Roughly 520 Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative customers were without power at 6:30 p.m., spokesman David Lambert said. The outages were scattered throughout the county, though a majority were in the Ridge Manor area, and were caused by lightning strikes and downed trees snapping power lines, Lambert said.

"We will work through the night to get everyone restored," he said.

At the height of the storm, Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative had about 3,000 customers without power, Lambert said. By 7 p.m., that number had dropped to about 400.

Progress Energy had about 112 Hernando customers still without power by 7 p.m., according to the company's online outage map. Nearly all of those customers were just west of downtown Brooksville and in Masaryktown. The maximum number of outages was not immediately available Tuesday.

The storm, carrying punishing hail and 60-mph gusts, cut a west-east swath roughly along Spring Hill Drive and impacted the neighborhoods south of the major traffic artery. Emergency officials said trees also were down along U.S. 41 in the Masaryktown area and along Powell Road near Culbreath Road.

The storm also brought with it a drastic drop in temperatures. Before the storm hit Hernando, temperatures were hovering near 80 degrees. As the storm blew through the county, the temperatures plummeted into the 60s.

Roughly an inch of rain fell during the first two hours of the storm, according to various weather reporting sources.

The severe weather hit as many Hernando school buses were making their way along afternoon routes. Two buses got trapped on Batten Road, east of Brooksville, for about 25 minutes due to downed trees, transportation director Linda Smith said. One bus had students from Challenger K-8, the other from Moton Elementary.

"They had trees down in front of them and behind them," Smith said.

Area residents helped move the trees, she said.

The afternoon got a little more hectic when the district's radios stopped working, Smith said. Drivers were forced to call in on cell phones, Smith said.

"It was a little hairy," she said.

Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.

Storm batters Hernando, but was there a tornado? 01/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 8:19pm]

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