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Tornado hits west Broward; damage, minor injuries reported

Residents of Sunrise and Plantation woke up Wednesday to assess the damage and begin cleaning up after vicious weather ripped through their neighborhoods Tuesday night.

Hugo DeFerrari, 53, surveyed his driveway on Northwest 133rd Avenue near 8th Street where a wind-blown uprooted tree lay across two family vehicles, a pickup truck and a Humvee. That was the most dramatic, though not the full extent, of his damage.

"Two of our south-facing windows blew out and caused some damage inside the house," said DeFerrari, a 15-year resident of Sunrise.

DeFerrari said when the severe weather hit Tuesday night, he and his wife had been watching television when the wind started roaring and the power went out. He immediately ran upstairs to make sure his son was safe and was startled by the sound of the windows blowing out.

"It was scary," he said.

A tornado watch that had been issued Tuesday night was lifted about 4 a.m. Wednesday for much of South Florida including Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and several other counties.

Tuesday night’s wicked weather in western Broward County was partly caused by a large, sloppy tropical disturbance.

In Sunrise, a tornado touched down at about 10 p.m., said Plantation Fire Department Battalion Chief Joel Gordon. The twister damaged several homes, there were reports of several minor injuries, and damage in an unoccupied trailer park, Gordon said.

"It’s mostly debris, with some structural damage and damage in the trailer park," Gordon said.

The tornado touched down in the area of 136th Avenue and Northwest Fifth Street in Plantation, then moved about a quarter-mile north into Sunrise, Gordon said.

"We did have a few reports of minor injuries, but nothing serious, nothing life-threatening," Gordon said.

Reports of gas leaks were unconfirmed, but roofs were caved in at several houses.

"We did have a couple trailers in a trailer park that were destroyed but they were unoccupied," he said.

Other, unconfirmed reports, were of a tornado damaging four homes, uprooting trees, blowing transformers and breaking some windows. Eighth Street from Flamingo Road to 136th Street was blocked off by emergency vehicles. More than 100 homes also lost power. Check FPL‘s Power Tracker here.

"Stay off the roads," Gordon said late Tuesday. "The roads are very small and emergency vehicles are trying to get through."

The Wednesday morning commute continued to be affected by rain and gusty wind.

"It’s possible the heaviest rain may occur just before the rush hour," said meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service in Miami. "It’s going to be a close call."

After moving in from the Gulf of Mexico, the disturbance was expected to blanket the southern third of the state with showers, thunderstorms and clouds late Tuesday through Wednesday morning.

. At 10 p.m., Tuesday forecasters issued tornado warnings for Central Broward cities in the northerly path of a storm moving 35 mph and carrying winds of up to 60 mph. The warning was cancelled by 10:30 after the tornado dissipated.

Adding to the stormy brew on Tuesday night and early Wednesday, a cold front descending over the state was expected to produce strong, potentially damaging winds up to 60 mph.

Although the heaviest rains are expected to move offshore by 6 a.m. Wednesday, "the roads are going to be wet regardless," Molleda said. "It’s probably not going to be a pleasant rush-hour commute."

Conditions should slowly improve through Wednesday, with rain and clouds lingering into the afternoon.

"By late in the afternoon on Wednesday, the sky should be clearing up. We might even get to see the sunset," Molleda said.

Then the good news: After that cold front moves through the region, the gloomy weather should be replaced with considerably cooler, drier air.

"Thursday and rest of the week look great," he said.

High temperatures on Thursday are forecast to about 80 degrees. By Thursday night and Friday morning, temperatures are expected to dip to the upper 50s; areas along the coast should be a couple of degrees warmer. Friday’s high temperatures should be in the upper 70s, Molleda said.

The comfortable conditions should continue through the weekend. There should be plenty of sun and a light breeze on both Saturday and Sunday.

"It still should be pretty nice and dry," he said.

The tropical disturbance first emerged in the western Caribbean near Mexico’s Yucatan over the weekend and appeared to gain organization quickly. By Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center gave it a high chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm.

By Monday evening, however, the system began losing its punch, as it encountered hostile winds. By Tuesday afternoon, it was given a near zero chance of developing.

Just the same, the clouds and thunderstorms associated with the disturbance brought heavy rains to Cuba, Jamaica and the Keys – Key West alone was swamped with more than 13 inches of rain on Sunday and Monday – and brought 3 to 4 inches of rain to South Florida over the past three days, said meteorologist Dave Ross.

As the system approached the southwest coast of Florida on Tuesday afternoon, forecasters noticed it was exhibiting the characteristic of "mini-supercells," or storms capable of spawning tornadoes. Combined with the overall unsettled nature of the atmosphere, the weather service predicted South Florida could experience damaging winds up to 60 mph.

The disturbance now is expected to spread its wet misery over southern Georgia and the Carolinas.

Meanwhile, thanks to all the rain in the past month, South Florida’s drought officially ended in mid-September, that is, everywhere except the Lake Okeechobee area. That region still is considered to be under moderate drought conditions, largely because the lake’s level had been below normal, Molleda said.

"However, with the lake level rising from last week’s rains and likely to increase some more with the current rain, we’ll probably be able to get rid of the drought status for the lake this week or next at the latest," he said.

Most of South Florida had been under either extreme or exceptional – the worst category – drought conditions for much of the past year. That followed the driest October-May period on record in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. During that period, both cities received only about 30 to 35 percent of their normal rainfall.




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