MANATEE -- A tornado borne by Tropical Storm Andrea downed power lines and caused other damage in the Myakka City area early Thursday, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. There were no reports of injuries.
The Florida Highway Patrol opened the Sunshine Skyway at 6:30 p.m. after it had been closed since noon by winds in excess of 40 mph on the bridge at the entrance to Tampa Bay.
Shortly before 3 a.m., the National Weather Service broadcast an alert about a tornado near Myakka City, according to a news release issued at 4:20 a.m.
Responding deputies found a shed and other debris covering about 150 feet of the 36000 block of State Road 70 East near Singletary Road, several downed power lines and a fire.
As of 10:30 a.m., power had been restored for 278 Peace River Electric customers who saw their lights knocked out, according to the company's website.
The National Weather Service damage survey crew confirmed the Myakka City damage was caused by a tornado.
The county government, which has activated its emergency operations center, said some pool cages and power lines were damaged in Myakka and other parts of East Manatee. There were also reports of some minor flooding on Holmes Beach and on Anna Maria Island.
Manatee Emergency Management Chief Don Hermey said gusts of up to 50 mph could blow through the area throughout the day.
“If there’s travel you can postpone or that’s unnecessary today while storm is upon us, please stay indoors, stay safe,” Hermey said. “This is a rain and wind event, so there will be some periods of heavy downpours. Bottom line is, stay in and stay off the roads if you’re able.”
Officials also advised residents to avoid driving through standing water.
A county information line, (941) 749-3590, will be updated as the situation or EOC status changes.
Lake Manatee dam is functioning normally and is slowly discharging water to maintain safe levels in the lake which now sits at about 38 feet, according to the county.
A tornado also apparently struck near Sun City Center in Hillsborough County. According to Bay News 9, there were reports of downed power lines and other damage.
As for Andrea, Manatee and the rest of the region are under a tropical storm warning until 12:30 p.m. Friday; a tornado watch until 10 p.m. Thursday; and a flood watch until 8 p.m. Thursday.
As of 5 p.m., Tropical Storm Andrea had sustained winds of 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center was located about 35 miles north-northwest of Cedar Key or 80 miles southeast of Tallahassee. It was moving northeasterly at 17 mph.
For Bradenton, the National Weather Service says the chance of rain Thursday night is 60 percent.
“A band of showers just offshore is coming into the Manatee-Sarasota area right now, actually,” National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Fleming said during a phone interview at 8:40 a.m.
Threats to beach communities entailed a storm surge along the the coast featuring a high tide cycle in the early afternoon with waves about two feet above normal, Fleming said.
Would-be beachgoers should stay out of the water, since the storm could generate dangerous rip currents that could drag swimmers out to sea, he warned.
“Even if the sun comes out if the winds are still up, people die in the rip currents,” Fleming explained. “Be aware the wind is still up and the beaches are still very dangerous.”
Fleming predicted about 3-5 inches of rainfall along the coast, but local amounts from the tropical storm could be as much as 7-8 inches, he said.