In the early hours of Sunday morning, powerful storms raked South Hillsborough, gaining strength as they reached Manatee and Sarasota counties, resulting in loss of life.
Sunday began with a tragic display of nature’s raw power and ended with a display of nature’s beauty. During the early morning hours, strong thunderstorms rolled over the Tampa Bay area, through South Hillsborough and into Manatee and Sarasota counties.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm system carried gusts approaching 70 miles per hour, with high winds twice forcing the closure of the Sunshine Skyway.
In the small Manatee County community of Duette, what is now estimated as an EF2 tornado destroyed homes and claimed two lives and injured others, including children. Another tornado touched down on the Sarasota County barrier island of Siesta Key. At least one other tornado was reported.
Duette is well known throughout the area as being the home of Florida’s last, operational “one-room” schoolhouse. The historic school appeared to escape damage from the storm.
Governor Rick Scott toured the area, initially estimated to have suffered more than $3 million in damages, on Sunday afternoon.
Tornados, while unusual in January, have occurred in the past. Only 17 of the lower 48 states have not experienced a tornado during January, according to records dating back more than 60 years.
After the early morning storms passed, breezy and chilly conditions filled the area, with the evening ending on a peaceful note.