On Thursday morning, 40-year-old Amber Byers of St. Petersburg heard “one of the most horrible sounds” she’s ever heard.
A tree crashed into the front window of her rental home on 9th Avenue North, right next to her Christmas tree. Her son had been sitting on the couch nearby and jumped up just moments before, she said. Fortunately, though, no one in the house was injured.
Just down the road, another tree collapsed on top of All Children’s Academy, a preschool on the grounds of St. Vincent’s Episcopal Church, damaging the roof and leaking water into the building. Roughly 40 kids and 8 staffers were evacuated from the school.
“We’re so thankful none of the children were hurt, nobody was hurt,” said Alex Andujar, the priest in charge of St. Vincent’s.
No children were in any of the classrooms where the tree struck, said the preschool’s owner, Ricardo Griffith. They were using the restrooms on the other side of the building before nap time.
The buildings were damaged during a weather system Thursday that included a confirmed EF1 tornado and left behind scattered debris, flooded streets and power outages in its wake.
The weather service measures tornado strength using the Enhanced Fujita scale, which ranges from EF0 to EF5. An EF1 rating is the second-lowest of the six classifications, with winds between 86-110 mph.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for all of central Florida, including Tampa Bay, from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, ahead of a line of showers and thunderstorms that rode along a cold front. Parts of Tampa Bay were under an assortment of weather watches and advisories throughout the day.
Photos from Fox 13 reporter Evan Axelbank showed a 7-Eleven in Spring Hill with a roof that had collapsed.
In Tampa, police shut down North 22nd Street from Meridel Avenue to East Bougainvillea Avenue on Thursday afternoon due to flooding.
Outage maps for Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co. showed around 8,500 customers in Tampa Bay without power late Thursday morning. By around 5 p.m. Thursday, the companies reported that fewer than 700 outages remained.
The Storm Prediction Center defines a severe storm as any storm that contains at least one of the following weather events: wind gusts of 58 mph or higher, hail at least 1-inch in diameter or a tornado.
At Byers’ house in St. Petersburg, faintly flashing Christmas lights strung from the roof tangled with the fallen tree, jutting into her living room. Reindeer decor was knocked under the tree. A car she had just recently purchased, however, was spared.
Byers said she was grateful that none of her loved ones were injured.
“Things can be repaired,” Byers said. “People can’t.”
According to Daniel Noah, a meteorologist with the Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office, the system spanned the eastern two-thirds of the country.
“We’re just more tropical in nature, so we have moisture and we just have a chance of isolated severe thunderstorms today and tornadoes, and we’ll get through it,” Noah said.