1966 Tampa tornado family
|Date(s)||April 4, 1966|
|Maximum rated tornado||F4 (Fujita scale)|
|Damages||$5–50 million (1966 USD); $36-363 million (2014 USD)|
The 1966 Tampa tornado family was a deadly tornado family that affected the I-4 corridor in Central Florida from the Tampa Bay area to Brevard County on April 4, 1966. Two tornadoes affected the region, each of which featured a path length in excess of 100 miles (160 km). One of the tornadoes produced estimated F4 damage on the Fujita scale; it remains one of only two F4 tornadoes to strike the U.S. state of Florida, the other of which occurred in 1958. Both F4 tornadoes occurred during El Niño years. Eleven people were killed across the state, including three in the city of Tampa and seven in Polk County. The F4 tornado remains the fourth-deadliest tornado event recorded in Florida; only tornadoes on March 1962, February 2007, and February 1998 caused more deaths in the state. All of the events were induced by non-tropical cyclones. The two tornadoes are officially listed as continuous events, but the tornadoes' damage paths did not cross the entire state, and downbursts may have been responsible for destruction near Lake Juliana and the Kissimmee–Saint Cloud area. However, the combination of tornado and downburst destruction was continuous in Central Florida.
A squall line affected the central Florida peninsula on April 4, and both tornadoes originated as waterspouts over the Gulf of Mexico. The two tornadoes were spawned from a single thunderstorm that entered the Tampa Bay region, and they are believed to have represented a tornado family. Initially, the tornadoes were poorly forecasted by the U.S. Weather Bureau, since meteorological analysis did not indicate the presence of an adjacent surface low, which would have enhance conditions for tornadoes. The first Tornado Watch was not released for the central Florida area prior to the tornadoes.
|F#||Location||County||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F4||Largo to N of Merritt Island||Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Brevard||1300||135.8 miles (218.5 km)||11 deaths – See section on this tornado – 300 people received injuries. One or two homes incurred F4 damage in Gibsonia. It is probable that the event constituted a tornado family, and the total path length may have been less than is officially listed.|
|F3||S of St. Petersburg to Cocoa Beach||Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Brevard||1315||123.3 miles (198.4 km)||See section on this tornado – This event may have contained multiple tornadoes, which would constitute another tornado family.|
|Source: Tornado History Project storm data for April 4, 1966|
Largo to Merritt Island
The first tornado touched down around 8:00 a.m. near Largo, Florida, in Pinellas County. It damaged 36–40 houses in the Saint Petersburg and Clearwater areas. Later, it continued across the northern side of Tampa, where it demolished 150–158 homes and caused significant damages to 186 residences. The tornado caused damage to a junior high school, and it ripped roofs from homes and one dormitory on the University of South Florida's campus. Losses in the Tampa Bay area reached $4,000,000 (1966 USD). The tornado moved east-northeast into Polk County and progressed over the northern sides of Lakeland and Saint Cloud. Gibsonia and Galloway received the most severe damages in Polk County; more than 100 homes were demolished in the area, and seven deaths occurred. The tornado also destroyed several trailers from the Lake Juliana area near Auburndale to north of Haines City. It eventually moved over the Cocoa area and lifted between Courtenay and Merritt Island. The tornado produced F4 damage in Polk County, and it was significantly more damaging than the second one; total damages reached $5–50 million (1966 USD).
St. Petersburg to Cocoa Beach
The second tornado touched down fifteen minutes later than its predecessor near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, where it lifted a 23 foot (7 m) trailer and an automobile. It moved inland over central Florida and closely paralleled the path of the more powerful first tornado. It crossed Winter Haven, passed near Rockledge, and lifted near the Merritt Island area in Brevard County. Total damages reached $50–100,000, and no deaths occurred. The funnel remained aloft for most of its life span, and maximum damage was typical of a F3 tornado. Fifteen homes were dismantled in Lakeland, while homes and businesses were demolished in northern Winter Haven. Warehouses were leveled south of Haines City, while Citrus trees and trailers were impacted near Auburndale. In the Cocoa Beach area, 150 trailers were destroyed, resulting in more than 100 injuries. 20–23 frame structures and a shopping center were also demolished. Additionally, the tornado struck the training site for the Houston Astros in nearby Cocoa, ripping four light standards from the ground, flattening the center field fence, and destroying all the backstops and batting cages. One of the cages was thrown more than 800 feet (244 m) into nearby woods. 140 people were injured by the tornado; the majority of the injuries occurred in Brevard County, where 133 people were transported to a hospital in Cocoa Beach. Widespread looting was reported in some localized areas after the passage of the tornadoes in Hillsborough and Polk counties; a total of 200 National Guardsmen were deployed to the two counties, while lesser numbers were ordered to the city of Cocoa. Damage in the Lakeland area was compared to the aftermath of the Normandy invasion during World War II.
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