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Andrea makes landfall at Florida’s Big Bend

Tropical Storm Andrea drenched much of the state and spun off at least eight tornadoes, including three in Broward and Palm Beach counties alone, as it headed for landfall Thursday afternoon along Florida’s Big Bend.

While the tornado threat would remain through the night until Andrea had dragged its big, sloppy tail across the peninsula, Florida emergency managers reported no deaths or major property damage. Intense rain bands dumped upwards of six inches in some areas but Andrea was traveling so briskly that flooding appeared minimal in initial reports.

“This one, fortunately, is a fast-moving storm,’’ said Florida Gov. Rick Scott during an afternoon briefing. Andrea was expected to cross the state by midnight and soak the Atlantic coast from Georgia to Maine over the next few days. Still, Scott said, Andrea had served as a reminder for residents to be prepared for what experts predict will be a busy hurricane season.

The tornadoes and waterspouts reported across the state were Andrea’s most unsettling impact but they did mostly minor damage. One that touched down at about 6:40 a.m. in The Acreage in western Palm Beach County ripped off roof shingles, broke windows, battered garage doors, uprooted trees and flipped one 30-foot boat on its side.

Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami who surveyed the damage, reported that one 85-year-old woman was seriously hurt and hospitalized after being stuck by debris when a large oak tree broke her bedroom window.

The twister also snapped the top of a cross-shaped cell phone tower at the Horizon Baptist Church. The 25-foot piece fell into a nearby pond, fortunately missing the church.

“We would have had problems,” Pastor Sherman Dibble told The Palm Beach Post. “It would have caused some damage.”

The preliminary survey, which found a path of damage two miles long and 50 to 100 yards wide, estimated the tornado’s wind speed at 100 mph. That’s an EF-1 on the scale used to assess tornado strength. By comparison, the tornado that bulldozed Moore, Okla., last week and killed 37 people was a 200-mph EF-5.

There were at two other confirmed tornadoes in Southeast Florida as well. One damaged trees, power lines and awnings in Belle Glade. Another crossed a section of the Everglades just east of U.S. 27 about six miles north of Alligator Alley in northern Broward, Molleda said. Others were reported across the state, from the St. Petersburg area to Melbourne. One twister in Myakka City, east of Sarasota, damaged garage doors, sheds and roofs.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Andrea continued strengthening as it came ashore at 5:40 p.m. in Dixie County, about 10 miles south of Steinhatchee, with maximum winds in a small section of the storm reaching 65 mph.

In the Tampa Bay area, MacDill Air Force Base recorded a 46 mph gust, the NHC reported. Winds during the day were high enough – topping 40 mph – that the Florida Highway Patrol temporarily shut down the Sunshine Skyway across Tampa Bay.

The South Florida Water Management District estimated less than a half of inch of rainfall across much of Miami-Dade and Broward. Some spots along coastal Palm Beach and Martin counties and north of Lake Okeechobee saw two to three inches. Higher amounts were expected along the Gulf Coast and in North Florida as Andrea slogged across the state overnight.

Once inland, Andrea was on track to soak much of the Atlantic coast. Forecasters added tropical storm warnings and flood watches Thursday from North Florida to Virginia.

In Southeast Florida, powerful, fast-moving thunderstorms swept in during the morning, slowing rush hours, but were followed for the rest of the day by a mix of drizzle alternating with grey but dry skies. Forecasters expected similar on-and-off storms for most of the evening but letting up later Friday as Andrea turns more to the northeast after moving inland.

Evelyn Rivera, an NWS meteorologist in Miami, said Andrea’s most intense storms hit Palm Beach and areas to the north. While the storm was likely to continue pulling tropical moisture across South Florida on Friday, she said storms should be more scattered and conditions should continue improving for the weekend.

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