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Storm system brings heavy rains and a tornado east of Tampa, downing some power lines

Traffic slows for large puddles of water on Kennedy Boulevard as thunderstorms enveloped downtown Tampa on Wednesday evening. The storm was heaviest along Interstate 75 and dropped 3 to 5 inches of rain in central Hillsborough.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Traffic slows for large puddles of water on Kennedy Boulevard as thunderstorms enveloped downtown Tampa on Wednesday evening. The storm was heaviest along Interstate 75 and dropped 3 to 5 inches of rain in central Hillsborough.

A tornado passed by a freight business in northern Hillsborough County Wednesday night as several storm systems converged before 7 p.m. to drench the rain-starved Tampa Bay area.

Pinellas saw less extreme weather with rains estimated between 11/2 and 2 inches for the night.

Workers at AAA Cooper Transportation, at 8818 Industrial Drive, Tampa, said they were standing on the loading dock at 6:15 p.m. when the tornado approached.

"When it came it didn't waste no time," said Terry Blotevogel, 52, a loading dock employee. "It was in and out of there in three to five minutes."

He said it didn't touch down but passed over the south end of the building. No damage to the building was reported, but there were some downed power lines, said Ryan Sharp, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Thirty-five to 40 employees were inside AAA Cooper at a safety seminar in a conference room in the building, just west of U.S. 301 and north of Sligh Avenue, as the storm blew past.

Blotevogel said clouds over a pasture 150 yards west of the semitrailer loading dock started to turn, and when they got faster and faster, he and others went inside the building to warn employees at the meeting about the storm.

Many businesses in the industrial park seemed to be closed during the height of the storm.

"It looked like one single cloud. It was turning real slow," said William Duran, 41, who also works at the business.

Witnesses reported that a transformer blew up behind the building and minor damage occurred to a fence on the property, but no one was hurt.

Sharp said the storm that brought visibility close to zero on local interstates and dropped 3 to 5 inches of rain in parts of central Hillsborough, as several separate storms came from different directions.

"The heaviest rain was generally along Interstate 75," he said. "Some places in extreme eastern Hillsborough didn't get any."

Intersections flooded in the northern and eastern sections of the county and parts of Tampa making evening commutes slow going for drivers.

The National Weather Service said it has not determined how much damage the high winds and heavy rains have caused.

County emergency dispatchers got numerous reports of traffic signals being out. Around 8 p.m. the system began to break up, sending rain to Pinellas and Pasco Counties and back out over the Gulf of Mexico, he explained.

Sharp expected the wet weather to last well into the night and maybe into the morning. "We could see some fog on the roads," he said.

In Pinellas County, the storms were less intense, with an occasional lightning strike. Downtown St. Petersburg saw the heaviest rainfall, with about 2 to 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Local law enforcement agencies said they didn't have any reports of widespread damage.

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report.

Storm system brings heavy rains and a tornado east of Tampa, downing some power lines 05/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 11:55pm]
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