ORLANDO, Fla. — National Weather Service experts warned Wednesday that the rise of a potent, global climate bully has set the stage for violent weather and killer tornadoes in Central Florida from now until spring.
With one occurring every few to seven years at varying strengths, an El Niño ocean-warming phase is taking shape as among the stronger on record and is forecast to have a high probability of ushering powerful storm systems across the Gulf of Mexico into the Orlando region and other parts of Florida through March.
National Weather Service officials said conditions now in place put Central Florida at a comparable level of risk to 1998 when an overnight spree of tornadoes killed 42 people in the greater Orlando area, and set Florida’s record for tornado deaths, and to 2007, when another nighttime storm front spawned several twisters that killed 21 in the region.
“In just two tornado events,” said Dave Sharp, meteorologist in charge of the weather service office that covers the Orlando region, “you’ve got 63 Central Floridians dying.”
Sharp said an El Niño “can introduce the right ingredients to produce strong and violent tornadoes. And that’s where those deaths are coming from. It’s from blunt force trauma.”
The state’s tornado events during El Niño conditions tend to play out as a swarm of twisters riding a storm front churning east across the Florida peninsula. That occurred during the record outbreak in 1998, which started late at night Feb. 23 and played out for nearly four hours and with seven tornadoes.
National Weather Service
The National Weather Service documented the tracks of seven tornadoes that occurred within several overnight hours in February 1998. The tornado assault killed 42 Central Floridians and was the deadliest on record in Florida. In that harrowing disaster, a tornado struck at 11 a.m. in Volusia County killing one person, according to weather service records.
A second tornado just before midnight crossed from Lake County into Orange County, killing three.
At 12:15 a.m., a third ripped across Seminole County into Volusia County, leaving 13 dead. The fourth at just before 1 a.m. traveled from Osceola County into Orange, with 25 fatalities in its wake. By 3 a.m. three more twisters hit Volusia and Brevard counties but with no deaths.
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