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Tornado downs trees, lines in Thonotosassa

A tornado briefly touched down Tuesday afternoon as a band of thunderstorms carrying strong winds and hail moved across the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida, meteorologists said.

Hillsborough County emergency officials and the National Weather Service in Ruskin said the tornado felled trees and downed power lines in Thonotosassa, about 12 miles northeast of Tampa. No injuries were reported.

Hail, lightning, heavy rains and strong winds accompanied the thunderstorms across much of Central Florida.

Jan Phelps of Temple Terrace saw what looked like parting clouds as she was driving home Tuesday night at about 6:30 p.m. on Fowler Avenue.

Phelps, who was looking toward the east, said the mass was "funnel-shaped."

"It was very, very large. The sky around it was dark, and it was actually lighter than the dark clouds."

The storm did no damage to homes and caused no injuries, officials said. But a tree limb did fall on a sheriff's squad car on Thonotosassa Road, and another vehicle was damaged at a nearby boat ramp during the storm, said Hillsborough Dep. Scott Morrill.

In the aftermath, trees and limbs blocked Thonotosassa Road between Kingsway and Hendry Ranch Road. The tornado passed along the eastern shore of Lake Thonotosassa, said Richard Lazenby, 40, of Tampa, who was taking his boat for a test drive on the lake.

His stepson, Joe Acevado, 18, who was with him, said they were sitting in the water when he "saw the cloud start spinning and get bigger and bigger as it came down."

Lazenby and relatives in another boat headed for the west shore of the lake as the tornado passed by. Acevado said they felt the strong winds toss their boat as they headed for shore.

Afterward, they made their way back to the boat ramp and Lazenby found the windshield and the hood of his truck had been damaged by tree limbs.

Lazenby said he had "always wanted to see a tornado, but not while I was on the water."

_ Staff writers Jay Cridlin, Tamara Lush and Mack Goethe contributed to this report.

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