Nine tornados — three each in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties — wreaked havoc in the Tampa Bay area Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
The destruction left 18,000 Tampa Electric customers without power Friday. Some of them won't get service restored until Saturday afternoon, company spokesman Rick Morera said.
There were about 6,000 Progress Energy customers left without power in Pinellas County as of late Friday afternoon, but they were all expected to have service by late Friday night, spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. There have been no glitches restoring power, she added.
Most of the outages were caused by tree limbs knocking down an extraordinary number of power lines, the utility companies reported.
Morera said the snapped poles are being replaced with high-wind resistant concrete and steel poles, but the delay in getting the power on is more complicated.
"Some of the homes and businesses were so severely damaged that even if we restore a neighborhood, the customer has problems receiving the power," he said.
Substantial damage occurred in the Palm River, Riverview and Interbay Boulevard areas, where the National Weather Service said two tornados touched down in a 10-minute period.
The second wave of the storm came on shore about 11 a.m. and took a northeastern track through Pinellas to Polk County.
"Some only lasted for one to two minutes," said Jennifer Colson, a Weather Service meteorologist. While the tornados seemed to be on a track, each touchdown is considered a separate event, she added.
"When it skips and hops, it's not considered a continued path," Colson said.
Extra crews have been hired to work on restoring power.
One bright spot to the day: the weather is expected to be beautiful through the weekend, with no chance of rain.
About 14,000 Tampa Electric customers were without power in Hillsborough, mostly in South Tampa, Temple Terrace, Brandon and Plant City, Morera said. Another 4,000 customers were without power in Polk County as well some 1,000 in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Progress Energy outages were scattered throughout its coverage area, but mostly in Pinellas County and about 450 in Pasco County, spokeswoman Kristin Perry said.
Progress Energy has recruited about 300 extra field workers since Wednesday. Tampa Electric had about 600 workers and 80 contractors working on restoring power,. Perry and Morera said crew members were working around the clock.
"Power is being restored to customers throughout the day as quickly and safely as possible," Perry said.
Thursday's incessant rain and sweep of tornadoes delayed the restoration process, Morera said. Bad weather continued into the evening until officials finally could assess the damage, and then begin to fix the outages, he said.
Reducing the number of customers without power from Thursday's peak within 24 hours was significant progress, Morera said.
In the past five years, Morera said, "This is the most power lines I've seen downed by a storm outside of a hurricane."
Pinellas County Emergency Management spokesman Tom Iovino, whose own Largo neighborhood got hit hard by high winds, said damage around the county would not be assessed because it wasn't the kind of event that would prompt an application for federal funding.
Thursday's soaking left the Tampa Bay area drenched, with some areas getting nearly 5 inches of rain by midnight, according to the National Weather Service. Gauges at Tampa International Airport measured 3.99 inches, while St. Petersburg had 3.12. Areas of eastern Pasco County received about 4.91 inches and Brooksville Airport measured 2.81.
For those without power, here's a Q&A regarding food safety, from Times food editor Janet K. Keeler:
Q: How can I make food last in my refrigerator and freezer after a power outage?
A: Keep the doors closed to trap cold air. Bacteria begins to grow when temperatures rise above 40 degrees. Place appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature.
Q: How long will perishable food be safe to eat after a power outage?
A: A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days, a half-full freezer, about a day. Refrigerated foods should be safe if the power is out no more than four to six hours.
If it appears the power will be off more than six hours, transfer perishable foods to a cooler filled with ice or frozen water bottles or gel packs.
Q: Which foods spoil quickly?
A: These items will spoil after eight hours without refrigeration: meat, poultry, fish, eggs and egg substitutes (raw or cooked), milk, cream, yogurt and soft cheese; casseroles, stews or soups; lunch meats and hot dogs; creamy salad dressings; custard, chiffon or cheese pies; refrigerated cookie dough; and open mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish.
Q: I normally keep butter in the refrigerator. Will it spoil without power?
A: The following foods keep at room temperature for a few days: butter or margarine; hard and processed cheese; fresh fruits and vegetables; fruit juices and dried fruit; opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings; jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives; fresh herbs and spices; fruit pies, breads and cakes (except cream cheese-frosted or cream-filled). Discard anything that turns moldy or has an unusual odor.
Q: My power is back. Can I refreeze thawed food?
A: You can refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals. Thawed foods that do not contain ice crystals but have been kept at 40 degrees or below for no more than one to two days may be cooked, then refrozen or canned.