ST. PETERSBURG — Linda Hetterich was in bed when she heard the tornado warning screech from her husband’s cell phone.
Ray Hetterich, 77, was wrenched awake just as he nodded off while watching TV in the Florida Room of the couple’s waterfront condo in Boca Ciega Point, a 55-and-up boating community along the Intracoastal Waterway.
It was 1:07 a.m. Sunday. The warning covered all of Pinellas County. About two minutes later, the National Weather Service reported, a tornado spun from the intracoastal up the Hetterichs’ street on one of the fingers of land forming the dredge-and-fill community.
Storms would cause significant damage in the Bay Pines area and Redington Beach, damaging roofs on condos and apartments, downing large trees, ripping two light poles from the ground and knocking boats off their lifts, according to the Weather Service and Seminole Fire Rescue. There were no reports of injuries or flooding.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Linda Hetterich, 74, said Sunday afternoon. “Ray got on his laptop to find out where it was and then we heard a loud bang. It sounded like a plane crashed into our house.”
It was the sound of the twister peeling away the couple’s aluminum roof and tossing it on top of the neighbor’s house before moving on to the next home.
Ranked an EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the tornado was at the lowest of six classifications that start at 65 mph winds and ending at 200 mph or higher.
The tornado is believed to have dissipated nearly as quickly as it formed, said Daniel Noah, a meteorologist with the Weather Service who led its on-site investigation.
Still, with twisted garage doors and aluminum siding stretching for 1.3 miles northeast, Noah estimated the tornado grew to roughly 30 yards with winds around 75 mph.
As she helped her husband board up broken windows and find a missing air conditioner Sunday, Linda Hetterich said she would have chosen a different way to spend Valentine’s Day. Still, no one was hurt. Nothing irreplaceable was lost. The house was battered and waterlogged, but still standing.
More storms were expected to move in from the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, maybe even another tornado, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Nick Merianos.
“There is no distinct time for these storms,” Merianos said. “They will be on and off throughout the day.”
A south-to-southwest flow over the Florida peninsula was expected to create strong winds and a deep layer of moisture over the next 48 hours across the Tampa Bay region. Wind gusts of 20 to 30 mph were expected with higher gusts along the coast.
Once the storm system passes, forecasters predicted things will heat up fast across much of central Florida, with temperatures in the upper 80s through Thursday, excluding a cooler day on Tuesday, according to Bay News 9. Another round of showers and thunderstorms could hit the region Wednesday and Thursday, forecasters said.
While much of the country is seeing record cold weather, Florida is seeing higher low temperatures for February than ever before. The low in Fort Myers on Saturday was 71, breaking the previous record high minimum for the month of 70 degrees, set in 1920, according to the Weather Service. Other parts of south and central Florida could set similar records last week.
Forecasts for the week called for overnight lows in the 60s with a southerly wind that’s expected to shift out of the northwest later in the week. At that point, a brief cold front might bring more seasonal temperatures, with highs in the mid- to low-70s and lows in the 50s or lower.