You don’t normally think of Florida in terms of tornadoes, and yet Florida has the highest tornado frequency per square mile than any other state. Surprising, isn’t it?
Welcome to Florida’s tornado season, an annual event that runs from February through April.
Most Florida tornadoes fall into the EF0-EF1 categories, with a real whopper banging through every now and again. Even at the lower level of intensity, our tornadoes are dangerous for two reasons: They occur at a lower level, making them more difficult to spot on radar than is a Midwestern storm, and they happen at night.
Due to the very real potential for flooding, Florida homes do not have basements, nor do many Floridians own NOAA weather radios. I do, and it pisses people off. Although Gainesville sits in a band between the tornado badlands (roughly around Orlando) and the tornado highway (Interstate 10), I’ve twice had a happily rotating cloud whir over my head. Florida tornadoes do not sound like trains. Instead, they sound like washing machines fully committed to a vigorous spin cycle.
In the eighteen months I’ve lived in Gainesville, I have taken refuge in a small closet five or six times while less cowardly Floridians were out delivering mail, repairing cable connections, or getting hit by lightning while sitting a red light. I carry my radio as one would a purse, especially if the need arises–as it regularly does–to spend a stormy night in a mobile home.
After I lifted up the tail of a snake that I could only generally identify as harmless, I realized that I was running the risk of becoming not just complacent, but stupid. This explains the mystery of why I no longer let tornado watches stop me from plowing down the Florida Turnpike near Kissimmee or The Villages despite some indication that conditions for tornado development are pretty ripe. I enjoy the potential for severe weather even though a year ago I was pricing tornado shelters and asking my boyfriend to dig up perfectly good land to install one. I also asked him for the five thousand dollars to pay for it.
I have now become an annoying weather-buff type who reads radar the way she used to read The New Yorker. Since none of my friends is interested in supercells, downdrafts, or hook echoes, this is a lonely–albeit exciting– hobby. Worse, I now have the goal of videotaping a tornado in progress, even if nearly all of Florida’s events are masked by rain.