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Tropical Storm Nestor nears Florida landfall, lashing state with storm clusters, tornado threats

Florida

Tropical Storm Nestor is beginning to lose some of its tropical characteristics Saturday morning as it nears Florida’s coast, but is still packing 50 mph winds and pelting the state with rain and tornado threats,the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 a.m. update.

Dangerous storm surge and tropical-storm-force winds are still expected along portions of the northern Gulf Coast , the NHC said with a tropical storm warning still in effect for parts of Florida while all of Central Florida is under a tornado watch until noon.

“The atmosphere is kind of spinning right now,” said Fox 35 meteorologist Jayme King. “Of course when we develop some stronger storms, that spin can reach the ground and you get a tornado.”

The storm dropped from 60 mph winds Friday to 50 mph winds Saturday morning, but is not expected to reduce strength again until after it makes landfall on the Florida Panhandle. Nestor is moving northeast at 17 mph with its center located about 80 miles west-southwest of Panama City and 110 miles west of Apalachicola.

Already, winds are lashing the Panhandle, with the the Tyndall Air Force Base Tower located south of Apalachicola reporting a sustained wind of 49 mph and gust of 61 mph.

“Nestor is rapidly losing the few tropical characteristics that it once had,” said NHC Senior Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila. “The cloud pattern consists of a large circulation of low clouds with a comma-shape convective band well to the east of the circulation. This band is already over a large portion of the Florida peninsula.”

The system is projected to drop 2-4 inches of rain across the southeast U.S. over the weekend as it moves across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas with pockets of up to 8 inches, forecasters said.

As of 5:10 a.m., the National Weather Service in Melbourne said Daytona Beach had already broken its daily rainfall record, with 3.26 inches having already fallen with more still coming. Today’s rain could make it the wettest October on record for Daytona Beach.

The tornado threat from the system is possible through midday Saturday across the Central Florida peninsula and in coastal Georgia and the Carolinas by late Saturday as the outer bands lash their way across land to the east of the storm’s center.

Already this morning, the NWS had issued tornado warnings that have since expired for Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

A reported tornado in Polk County at 11 p.m. Friday caused a four-car wreck on Interstate 4 when the passing funnel cloud caused a semi truck to overturn onto another vehicle. No injuries were reported.

Reports of damage in the Lakeland area are consistent with an F0 tornado with 70 mph winds, according to the National Weather Service, which confirmed a tornado moved through Hillsborough and Polk counties. The storm ripped the roof off Kathleen Middle School and damages several other property, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The storm is expected to keep heading northeast through Saturday and then turn east-northeast on Sunday before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean, at that point as a post-tropical cyclone with dying maximum wind speeds.

For the immediate threat, Nestor has tropical-storm-force winds reaching up to 160 miles away from its center — mainly to east, but forecasters said the storm’s winds and rainfall will affect Central Florida over the weekend.

“Tropical storm force winds are spreading across portions of the Florida Gulf Coast, where tropical storm warnings are in effect,” Avila said. “Regardless of the exact track and intensity of the system, these winds will cover a large area, especially east of the center.”

“I expect landfall near sunrise up in the western Panhandle where the heaviest rain and strongest winds will occur,” said WOFL-Fox 35 Chief Meteorologist Glenn Richards. “For Central Florida we can expect a risk for isolated tornadoes from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. as the main wave of rainstorms move through. The greatest threat for Central Florida is for powerful winds of 40-50 mph through Saturday morning. Total rainfall will only be approx 1 inch.”

As of 8 a.m. Saturday, a tropical storm warning remains in effect from the Okaloosa/Walton County line in the Panhandle to Yankeetown, Florida just north of Tampa Bay while a storm surge warning remains in effect for Indian Pass to Clearwater Beach.

Storm surge combined with tides could see waters 3-5 feet higher than normal from Indian Pass to Chassahowitzka, 2-4 feet from Chassahowitzka to Clearwater Beach and 1-3 feet in Tampa Bay.

 

This article was originally published on  orlandosentinel