At 7:40, a tornado warning was in effect for Sarasota and Manatee counties. The National Weather Service reported that a likely waterspout was just offshore near Sarasota, moving northeast at 50 mph. Lakewood Ranch was in the storm's path.
Pasco County authorities reported damage from strong winds to a handful of roofs Sunday evening in Zephyrhills.
The National Weather Service issued tornado watches for the Tampa Bay area and all of central Florida effective until 10 p.m.
The city of Tampa is reporting that Davis Islands on-ramp at Swann will be closing. Drivers were advised to use the Hyde Park ramp to get to the island. Bayshore Boulevard had some flooding but was passable in both directions.
In Marion County, the Ocala area was under a tornado warning.
Tampa Bay and coastal waters were under a special marine warning.
The highest threat for severe weather was along and north of the Interstate 4 corridor, said 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Ashley Batey.
The conditions causing the severe weather are part of a larger system that pushed through the Southeast on Saturday night and Sunday, killing at least 16 people and injuring dozens more. At least seven of those deaths occurred when a tornado blew through a mobile home park in southern Georgia.
"The highest threat is going to stay up into north Florida," Batey said. "It does start to lose some of that dynamic moving this far south but not so much that we're out of the woods."
Strong wind early in the day led to several issues around the area. Wind speeds averaging 43 to 52 mph Sunday prompted closure of the Sunshine Skyway bridge to all traffic for part of the day, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, but it reopened around 9 p.m.
In Palm Harbor, the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 were closed for about 40 minutes in the early afternoon when powerful gusts blew down a Duke Energy power line between Alderman Road and E Klosterman Road, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.
Clearwater firefighters worked to keep a brush fire under control in a power line easement behind homes in the Countryside area off Northside Drive. The fire, spread by wind and dry grass, charred the ground and some privacy fences but had not damaged nearby homes early Sunday afternoon.
The forecast prompted the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to issue a bulletin Sunday morning, warning Nature Coast residents of the potential for tornadoes, hail of up to 1 inch in diameter and coastal flooding two to three feet above normal tide. Pasco County officials said the county's emergency operations center will monitor the weather and encouraged residents to secure loose items.
In a news release, the U.S. Coast Guard reported 16 water rescues Saturday that were mostly due to weather and urged boaters to stay off the water until the storms pass. A lake wind advisory and small craft advisory were in effect Sunday afternoon.
The storms should dissipate later in the evening, but winds could remain strong into the night, according to the National Weather Service.
It will remain windy Monday, but conditions will calm a bit after the front passes on Tuesday.
The front will drop highs on Tuesday into the upper 60s, Batey said, "but this isn't going to be a big arctic blast where we drop into the 30s or 40s," she said.
Some outdoor Sunday events in the area have already be called off due to the forecast, including the Clearwater Distance Classic race and Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival Music Fest in downtown Tampa.
Tornado Watch Expired For Tampa Bay Area Counties
TAMPA, FL — The National Weather Service in Ruskin has issued a tornado watch for counties throughout the Tampa Bay area until 10 p.m. Jan. 22. The watch includes Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties.
A watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. Earlier on Sunday, the weather service raised the threat level for severe thunderstorms in the Tampa Bay area to "high."
Forecasters say the primary concerns associated with the cold front moving through the region include isolated tornadoes, damaging wind gusts, large hail and the potential for heavy rainfall.
Residents are urged to stay alert and be prepared for strong storms. Emergency managers in counties across the Tampa Bay area are also warning residents to bring in loose items from their yards, much like they would prepare for a hurricane or other weather threat.
On Sunday morning, the weather service issued a Special Weather Statement for the region.
“A significant outbreak of severe weather is expected across west-central and southwest Florida today and early tonight,” the statement warned. “Supercell thunderstorms are expected to develop later today ahead of a squall line that will move quickly through the region later this afternoon and evening.”
Forecasters say Sunday’s storms have the potential to produce “large hail, gusty winds 60-80 mph and tornadoes, some of which could be strong and long-lived.”
The weather service is asking residents and visitors in the region to monitor weather closely and to heed warnings if they are issued. “These could be very dangerous storms,” the statement warned.
The storms have also prompted the weather service to issue a high surf advisory, lake wind advisory and coastal flood warning. Beach goers are also being warned of the potential for rip currents. The Skyway Bridge was closed to high-profile vehicles as of late Sunday morning as winds up to 41 mph had been clocked along its expanse.
Severe weather in the south has also been blamed for 11 deaths in central and southern Georgia.
Catherine Howden, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s office of emergency management, told the New York Times and the Associated Press that there had been 11 storm-related deaths and 23 injuries. Howden said there had been up to 20 reports of tornadoes and the severe weather was not expected to stop until Sunday night.
According to the Associated Press, the deaths occurred in Cook, Brooks and Berrien counties. The deaths are said to be weather-related but it has not been specified whether tornadoes were the cause.
The potential for rain and windy conditions is expected to stick around into the daytime hours Monday.
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