Dozens were killed from severe weather and tornadoes in Texas and Mississippi over the holidays. Meteorologists fear this could soon happen in Florida. That is, if history is any clue and residents aren't prepared.  The current El Niño ranks right up there in strength with the record-setting 1997-98 event. This is important because strong El Niño's correlate to a greater frequency of tornadoes in Florida, some unusually strong for this part of the world.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management highlights one week in February every year as "Severe Weather Awareness Week".  This year, officials and weather personnel in central and north Florida felt it was important to get the word out now. Meteorologist Brian LaMarre from the National Weather Service in Tampa said the pattern could shift soon and place many people at risk for severe weather and tornadoes.

"The jet stream is starting to spread a little bit farther south in the Southern U.S. We're going to see more of a current coming in from California, across Texas and the Mississippi River Valley, and over to Florida."

This stronger flow of wind is what often leads to an enhanced risk of tornadoes in the state, particularly in Central Florida. As we have noted repeatedly this fall, the two recent deadliest tornadoes outbreaks in our state occurred during El Niño winters of 1998 and 2007. Also, it's likely no coincidence that the only two accounts of an F4 tornado were during the El Niño's of 1958 and 1966.

Steve Watts, Director of Emergency Management for Osceola County, wants everyone to participate in a tornado drill Wednesday at 10 am.

“We’re trying to get as many of the members of the community to be aware of where they may need to go to shelter in the event of a tornado, whether it be somewhere locally in their community or even giving some consideration to going out of town if they live in a mobile home park or campground.”



Preparation and staying informed are the keys to surviving the sudden blast of 100+ mph winds from a tornado. Winds of that strength can destroy everything you own in a matter of seconds.  The first line of defense is awareness. The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network has a unique mobile app that allows you to customize severe weather alerts for multiple locations at street level. It's called Florida Storms and available free of charge in the app store today.


Many Floridians don't have storm shelters that are underground such as in the so-called "Tornado Alley". However, there are still actions you can take to protect your life if a tornado is approaching.  The following recommendations are something to think about on a calm weather day, such as during today's drill, so that you'll have the peace of mind to react quickly.


If you are in a home, small building, school, or work place...
If you are in a manufactured home or office...
If you are outside with no immediate place of shelter available...

If you are not in a sturdy building, there is no single research-based recommendation for what last-resort action to take because many factors can affect your decision. Possible actions include:

In all situations:


The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network and UF Weather Team will continue monitoring every weather system that heads our way in the coming weeks and will keep you informed of any possible hazardous weather well in advance.


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