Sunshine Skyway Bridge reopened as weather starts to calm down

The bridge was closed for most of Friday because of wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph.
Published December 21 2018
Updated December 21 2018

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge was reopened Friday just in time for rush hour traffic.

The Florida Highway Patrol announced at 4:44 p.m. that the bridge, which had been closed all day long because of powerful wind gusts in the 40 to 60 mph range, was reopened to traffic.

It was a sign of calmer weather starting to shape up as the weekend arrives. Friday started with tornadoes, downpours, storm-force winds, beach erosion and power throughout the Tampa Bay area thanks to the last remnants of a low-pressure system that moved through the area earlier this week.

Scattered showers were still a possibility through the rest of Friday as rain bands continue moving inland.

A gale warning is expected to remain in effect through 10 p.m., forecasters said, before it is downgraded to a smallcraft advisory. The Highway Patrol reported wind gusts as strong as 64 mph over the Skyway Bridge earlier Friday, rivaling top-end wind speeds of a tropical storm. Gusts were up to 55 mph as far north as Tarpon Springs.

"The winds are going to continue to be an issue today," forecaster Rodney Wynn said. "It's not a very good day to be out boating."

Winds also prompted the continued closure of Clearwater Beach's Pier 60. The pier closed Thursday and officials said it would remain closed until Saturday morning because of weather conditions.

LIVE RADAR: Interactive storm track, hourly outlooks, 10-day forecasts and weather alerts

Bay area counties remain under a coastal flood warning as waves pushing in off the Gulf of Mexico — fueled by those tropical storm-force gusts — are expected to produce high seas, rip currents, and treacherous boating conditions. Wynn said the highest levels of coastal flooding happened around midnight Friday, when high tide was about 3 feet higher than normal. This afternoon, he said, tide will still be 1-2 feet higher than normal.

Parts of the bay area continued to be pounded by encroaching surf Friday morning. The coastal areas of Honeymoon Island State Park were completely submerged and significant beach erosion could already be seen along state and county beaches.

"It sounds like the dunes got hit pretty bad," said Andy Squires, Pinellas County coastal resources manager. "We may check it out next week."

WATCH: Check out the hail that pelted Hernando County during Friday's storms Squires said USF researchers created profiles for county beaches that including sand levels in October. The next study is scheduled for early 2019 and would look at sand loss, he said. However, if local governments begin reporting damage or erosion, the county could conduct a visual inspection as early as next week.

Conditions in the Gulf will be especially bad as the onshore wind flow helps to produce 18-foot waves. Buoy reports a few miles off Egmont Key were already reporting 14-foot seas Friday morning.

"It's pretty rare to see that in the eastern Gulf," Wynn said.

The aftermath of the storm also led to 11,000 Duke Energy customers and 4,000 TECO customers losing power, according to the companies' power outage maps.

Though the frontal boundary and low pressure has passed, its aftermath is combining with upper-level energy — courtesy of the El Niño winter — to bring damp, chilly conditions and dangerous winds throughout the day.

All this comes one day after a strong system of storms on Thursday afternoon produced tornadoes, rip currents, flooding, hail and winds that resulted in damage to 73 mobile homes in Zephyrhills. The Weather Service said tornadoes touched down in Myakka City and Lake Wales as a result. Some areas also experienced between 4 and 6 inches of rain, forecasters said, with the heaviest hitting Sarasota County for 6-8 inches of rain.

Morning commuters were met with periods of heavy rain bands, accompanied by those strong winds that made for nervous drive across the area's bridges.

Lows started out in the low 60s, but forecasters say that will be as warm as it gets. Temperatures will continue to drop with the arrival of the cold front, eventually bottoming out around 50 overnight as skies clear.

But that will be a nice set-up for a chilly but pleasant Saturday, with highs in the low 60s. And while the gale-force winds should be gone, it will still be windy out there.

Warmer temperatures will begin to take hold on Sunday and through Christmas, with highs on Christmas Day in the low 70s under partly cloudy skies.

Contact Carl Lisciandrello at clisciandrello@tampabay.com. Follow @carlmarksTimes

Contact Daniel Figueroa at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts.

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