High winds and heavy rain lashed the Tampa Bay area Friday, triggering a tornado watch and knocking down a tent at the Florida State Fair that left 13 people injured.
The rain was expected to push away from the area at around midnight and set the stage for a dry and chillier-than-normal weekend, according to the National Weather Service. Today’s highs will be in the mid-60s.
A high surf advisory is in effect today for area beaches. The weather service was calling for swells of up to 9 feet to propagate toward the coast, resulting dangerous rip currents.
A cold front moving east brought the swift and powerful showers and thunderstorms to the area.
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As of 7 p.m. Friday, three-quarters of an inch of rain was reported for the day at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Most of central Florida, including Manatee County, was under a tornado watch from 2:05 to 8 p.m. Friday. The only activity reported was a water spout east of MacDill Air Force Base at around 3 p.m., according to Tyler Fleming, meteorologist at the weather service office in Ruskin.
At the fairgrounds east of downtown Tampa, three people had serious, but non-life-threatening, injuries, and 10 others suffered minor injuries, fair spokesman Paul Wilson said. All were taken to the hospital.
Katye Waddle, 15, was huddled under the 50-foot food tent with several people when what she described as a sudden huge gust blew over the structure.
She was knocked in the head with a pole, but said she was fine and was able to run away.
“There was a girl we passed and she was clutching her head and it was bleeding,” said Waddle, a student at Blake High School in Tampa.
People were seen running throughout the fairgrounds and some screamed, “Tornado!” as they scrambled for cover, according to witnesses. Fleming said there was not a tornado at the fair site, just severe high winds.
Fair officials said the large tent that collapsed, Cox’s Food Corral, will reopen today.
Straps that anchored the 50-foot-long tent were ripped away, exposing the food corral’s entire cooking area to the elements.
The damaged tent was removed and a smaller one was erected in its place at about 5:30 p.m.
Along with the large tent, several smaller structures collapsed.
Windy, cooler weather
Along with cooler temperatures, sustained winds of around 20 mph were forecast for today in Manatee, according to the weather service.
Tonight’s low temperature was expected to be around 47 degrees, with wind-chill readings as low as 40 degrees.
Expect mostly sunny skies Sunday with a high near 61 degrees and a low around 44 degrees.
High temperatures throughout next week are not expected to surpass 70 degrees.
— The St. Petersburg Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.