Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are more frequent in South Florida than most people realize. According to the National Weather Service, since 1971, South Florida has averaged a total of 10 tornadoes per year. In fact, since 1996, seven tornadoes of EF-1 or EF-2 intensity on the Enhanced Fujita Scale have affected southeast Florida.

Upon determination of the threat of a tornado, either a “take shelter” or “duck and cover,” depending on available space.

Tornadoes have also been observed more frequently during El Niño episodes particularly during the winter and spring months. During an El Niño of similar magnitude in March 2003, an EF-2 tornado with winds in excess of 115 mph ripped through the Brownsville and Liberty City areas of Miami, killing one, injuring 14 and causing damage to over 400 structures totaling $8 million.

Tornadoes are also fairly common in the outer rain bands of tropical cyclones, as was the case in 2008 when an outer band of Tropical Storm Fay produced an EF-2 tornado in Wellington.

The relatively small and short-lived nature of most South Florida tornadoes means that it is very difficult to give plenty of advance warning. In many cases, only a few minutes of warning are given between the time a warning is issued by the national weather service and the tornado touchdown. Nevertheless, even a few minutes of warning can make the difference between life and death. Having a NOAA Weather Radio is a critical component of the warning system. Having a weather radio available to alert of an approaching tornado has saved lives. When a tornado threatens your area, stay inside and go to an interior room without windows. In a multi-story building, go to the lowest floor.

When a tornado or severe thunderstorm has been detected either through National Weather Service Doppler weather radar or a trained SKYWARN ™ storm spotter, the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Miami will issue a warning. Warnings are communicated directly from the National Weather Service 24 hours a day, seven days a week through NOAA All Hazards Radio, through the internet at and through local media by way of the emergency alert system.

If you or your business does not have a severe weather preparedness plan, contact our Office of Emergency Management at 305.673.7135 or the National Weather Service for assistance.