Weekend storms across Georgia and Florida caused widespread damage, including more than 20 deaths. South Georgia was hit hard, with four people killed after a tornado struck Albany. One person was killed in Lake City after a large tree fell on a home. Florida Public Radio Emergency Network Meteorologist Jeff Huffman spoke with WFSU News Director Lynn Hatter about the unusual nature of the storms.
Lynn: This was a really unusual storm system. Tell us about it.
Jeff: The low pressure system with this particular storm system was stronger than the center of the low pressure system usually associated with Hurricane Hermine. A rather unusual event for this time of year, and especially this far south, in terms of latitude.
Lynn: In terms of scale, this covered Georgia and almost all of Florida. When is the last time we saw something like this?
Jeff: With regards to something non-tropical related. It’s been a long time since a storm of such size and strength moved through Florida. Some meteorologists say it may have been since 1993—many Floridians will remember that superstorm. This was certainly a little different in terms of impact of the severe weather in Florida. In 1993 we had snow in the Panhandle in the wake of that storm—but in terms of strength, its one many will remember and it will go down in the record books in the southeast for how strong it was.
Lynn: The possibility of tornadoes. We haven’t received confirmed reports—can you talk about the difference between tornadoes and microbursts?
Jeff: Severe thunderstorms can produce microbursts—down force winds, that can cause damage, they can also produce tornadoes. It’s actually the severe thunderstorms that cause all of these components. Whether or not you get hit by the down burst or microburst winds or tornadoes, obviously up to the storm itself. You can’t pinpoint that ahead of time. But the winds produced from the storms on Sunday, because of how strong the winds were, some of that wind translated to the surface up 80 mph in some areas, and that can cause tornado-like damage and it certainly did in parts of the southeast.
Lynn: What about the rest of the state? Were there certain areas of the state impacted more than others?
Jeff: The northern part of the state was more in the firing zone for severe weather because they were closer –that’s the areas closer to the low pressure center. The high risk was issued by the NWS Sunday afternoon, that’s a very rare occurrence: only 3-4 times has it been issues for a location in Florida. That was in the northern part of the state…there was enough energy for this system to continue producing strong thunderstorms all the way south into the Miami area through this morning.
Lynn: What kind of storm season has it been in Florida? We got our first hurricanes back in September—the first in a decade. Talk about where this storm season stands on scale.
Jeff: This is certainly the cold season, or the cool season in Florida, the calm season as people say. We usually don’t have hurricanes or tropical storms at this kind of year. But a storm system like this can occur. It’s an area of low-pressure that’s non-tropical related, so the two are unrelated. We had hurricane season ending in November, and this is our cool season when we don’t see a lot of active weather but occasionally you’ll see a storm system like this develop. We’re also in a La Nina which generally correlates with a warmer than average and drier than average winter, but once again, even during these large patterns that produce general type weather, something unusual like what happened Sunday can still occur.
Lynn: Final thoughts for our listeners? Anything to keep in mind going forward?
Jeff: The severe weather risk and potential for widespread outbreak of tornadoes was very real yesterday. And there were several unfortunate deadly tornadoes to our north. A hurricane is like a bowling ball heading toward pins. Predicting where a tornado is going to develop is is like playing fold and trying to hit the hole in the green in one shot. You can’t exactly tell where these tornadoes are going to form but you can highlight generally large areas that will be impacted. That’s what we had yesterday and luckily Florida was spared the worst.
Jeff Huffman is the meteorologist for the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. He’s based at WUFT-FM in Gainesville.