Hurricanes and Tornadoes in Florida

Florida Hurricane Season (shown in red)
Florida Hurricane Season (shown in red)

As well as being known as the Sunshine State, Florida is also renowned for its hurricanes and to a lesser extent, tornadoes.

If you are looking for information on the very latest hurricane situation in Florida, then read the latest weather updates page

No matter where you stay in Florida, whether you are up in the north, in the central Orlando area, on either the western Gulf Coast or the eastern Atlantic coast or down in the Florida Keys, you could be caught by a hurricane or a tornado. Do not be complacent; one year when we were at Walt Disney World a mini-tornado struck nearby Kissimmee.

If you are on vacation during the Florida hurricane or tornado season then do check with your hotel, motel or villa owner for any specific information regarding any precautions you should take.

Florida Hurricane Season

The hurricane season in Florida (see image) runs from the beginning of June to the end of November with mid August to mid October being the height of the season

A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with an organised circulation (usually counter-clockwise); these tropical storms are classified under three headings depending primarily on wind speeds:

  • Tropical depression - clouds and thunderstorms with maximum sustained wind speed of 38 mph or less
  • Tropical storm - strong thunderstorms with a maximum sustained wind speed of between 39 and 73 mph
  • Hurricane - severe thunderstorms with a maximum sustained wind speed of 74 mph or higher

Hurricanes are classified with five categories using the Saffir-Simpson scale, where 1 is the weakest and 5 the strongest. Category 3 and above are regarded as major hurricanes.

Category Wind speed Storm Surge Damage Flooding
One 74 to 95 mph 4 to 5 feet No real damage to structures. Some damage to unanchored mobile homes Minor coastal flooding
Two 96 to 110 mph 6 to 8 feet Some damage to roofing and windows. Trees blown down and damage to mobile homes Flooding of low-lying escape routes
Three 111 to 130 mph 9 to 12 feet Structural damage to residential properties and mobile homes. Up-rooted trees Coastal flooding up 8 miles inland with some evacuation of coastal properties
Four 131 to 155 mph 13 to 18 feet Extensive damage including roof structure failures. Extensive damage to windows and doors. Major flooding to shore properties. Mass evacuation of properties up to 6 miles inland
Five Greater than 155 mph Greater than 18 feet Complete building failures, especially mobile homes Major flooding to shore properties. Mass evacuation of properties up to 10 miles inland

Hurricanes often cause a storm surge at sea which can raise the sea level by up to 15 feet, cause inland flooding accompanied by high winds and in some cases tornadoes.

Over half of those killed as a direct result of a hurricane are drowned with many others being hit by flying debris. As many people again usually die in the aftermath of the hurricane from heart attacks etc.

Florida Tornado Season

There are two seasons for tornadoes (see diagram), the main one being in the summer between June and September and a more deadly spring season between February and April, encouraged by the jet stream

Florida Tornado seasons (shown in red)
Florida Tornado seasons (shown in red)

Recent Incidents

In February 1998 a tornado hit Kissimmee near Orlando killing 25 people, most of those killed lived in trailer homes, many of which were not built to withstand such high winds.

In 2004, four hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne) hit the Florida coast, causing over 20 deaths and more than $40 billion in damage.

In 2007, severe thunderstorms, accompanied by three tornadoes swept across Central Florida north of Orlando leaving a trail of death and destruction. Lake, Sumter and Volusia Counties bore the brunt of the storms and 21 people died in the towns of Lade Lake and Paisley in Lake County.

The chances of being hit by a hurricane or a tornado in Florida are pretty slim but it pays to be informed. It is important to keep up to date on weather conditions by listening to the radio or watching TV.

If you are staying in a region which is susceptible to hurricanes, it makes sense to buy a portable radio that picks up NOAA weather broadcasts

If you are staying near the coast then you should also pay particular attention to the sign-posted evacuation routes.

Remember the Florida hurricane and tornado seasons effectively overlap and run from the beginning of February through to the end of November.

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