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The tornado that hit Pinellas was the most powerful in 28 years

The last time a tornado of that scale hit Pinellas Park were the deadly tornadoes of 1992, which killed four and injured 130.
A tractor trailer and pickup truck lay damaged in a Pinellas Park industrial park off Endeavor Way which was hit by a tornado on Wednesday.
A tractor trailer and pickup truck lay damaged in a Pinellas Park industrial park off Endeavor Way which was hit by a tornado on Wednesday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 17, 2020
Updated Dec. 18, 2020

PINELLAS PARK — The tornado that tore through mid-Pinellas County on Wednesday was the most powerful to hit the area in nearly three decades.

That twister was officially classified as an F2 on the Fujita scale by the National Weather Service. Also known as the Fujita–Pearson scale, that’s how meteorologists rate the intensity of tornadoes according to how much damage they inflict.

That means it’s the most powerful tornado to strike the county since the deadly 1992 tornadoes that touched down in Pinellas Park.

Related: Businesses pick up the pieces after powerful tornado tore up Pinellas

Two tornadoes, rated an F2 and an F3, hit the area on Oct. 3, 1992. They killed four people, injured 130 and destroyed or severely damaged hundreds of homes and mobile homes, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. The Fujita scale changed in 2007, but those were still powerful tornadoes by any measure.

But there were no fatalities or injuries reported after Wednesday’s tornado strike, which damaged businesses, tore up roofs, knocked down trees and cut off the power to up to 14,000 customers.

Spectrum Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay said Thursday that the region is fortunate no one was killed or seriously injured. He noted that after damaging Seminole and Pinellas Park, the tornado then moved into the waters of Tampa Bay and passed near the Howard Frankland Bridge during rush hour.

“We’re very lucky that it didn’t hit any cars on the Howard Frankland Bridge,” he said. “There were probably 80 cars on the bridge when it came by and just missed it.”

Related: Tornado damages Pinellas, spares Howard Frankland Bridge, then hits Polk

Wednesday’s tornado touched down at 3:49 p.m., generated peak winds of 125 mph and traveled 13 miles before it entered the bay.

By comparison, the strongest tornado that hit in 1992 had maximum winds of up to 206 mph and traveled a length of three miles.

The 1992 tornadoes were also notable for this: President George H. W. Bush made a campaign stop in Pinellas County just an hour before the tornadoes hit. Air Force One was able to take off just before things got bad.