Santa Claus wasn’t the only thing descending on the Tampa Bay area this Christmas Eve.
Thunderstorms rolled into Tampa Bay around 6:30 p.m. Thursday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a severe thunderstorm warning to a large chunk of the region — down the coast from Crystal River to Indian Rocks Beach, as well as all inland Pinellas County.
The thunderstorms produced gusty winds throughout the region, including a 61 mph gust in Pinellas County and a 59 mph gust at Tampa International Airport.
The worst of the storm was over for the region by 8 p.m., said Tony Hurt with the weather service’s Ruskin office.
Hurt said that one structure reported damage on Ulmerton Road in Pinellas County, though the extent of that damage was still unknown as of 8:30 p.m. It appeared to be in the area where a tornado touched down last week.
While there likely won’t be any more gusts over 40 mph, Hurt said the region would remain windy and rainy for the rest of Thursday night.
Strong winds were the storm’s biggest threat, said Spectrum Bay News 9 Meteorologist Brian McClure.
The first gust to register over 40 mph in the region came at 6:45 p.m. — a 42 mph gust in Cedar Key, which is roughly 130 miles north of Tampa. In the next hour, the weather service reported at least one 40 mph-plus gust in Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
While the storms may have made for some rough skies for Saint Nicholas, there was one positive: They came to town ahead of a cold front, just in time to deliver Tampa Bay its coldest Christmas in nearly two decades.
The forecast high for Friday is 58 degrees and the low will be in the 30s. The last time Tampa Bay enjoyed a Christmas Day that was actually cold (by Florida standards) was in 2001 when the high was 58 degrees.
The lows will drop into the 30s in the northern bay area, while the lows for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties should hover around the mid-40s. The weather service projects it will get as cold as 35 at Tampa International Airport on Friday night.