'Worst weather day of the year': Tornado confirmed in Polk County

Certified meteorologist George Waldenberger explains what's ahead after a day of rough weather.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The National Weather Service confirms a tornado happened Thursday morning in Polk County.

The EF0 tornado reached peak winds of 75 MPH, damaging an apartment complex south of Lake Wales around 9:15 a.m.

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Damage is estimated around $45,000. County officials said one person was injured. The Red Cross is helping other residents who are displaced.

County officials also said lightning strikes sparked two house fires: One in Winter Haven, another in Davenport. The county said there was another as-yet unconfirmed tornado east of Fort Meade.

The storm brought heavy rain and some flooding across Central Florida.

The storms caused delays at Orlando International Airport, where departure boards were lit up in red with "Delayed" signs as the heavy travel rush picks up.

The airport said more than a dozen flights into and out of Orlando were canceled, and almost 400 more were delayed.

The airport urges holiday travelers to check their flight status before they leave for the airport, and to consider changing or rebooking your flight before arriving at the airport.


3:30 p.m.: Even though a strong line of storms moves into the Atlantic, Central Florida will still deal with a rainy Thursday evening.

The strong winds from the morning and afternoon storms damaged homes in places throughout Central Florida, especially in Leesburg as well as parts of Volusia County.

The storms prompted tornado warnings for much of the morning.

Now, rain is falling across much of the region. Remember to never drive with your hazard lights on during rain showers.

Have pictures or video of today's weather? Post it on social media using #StormAlert9

1 p.m.: A new severe thunderstorm warning is in affect for portions of Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties until 2 p.m.. The warning includes Orlando.

12:40 p.m.: Delays are stacking up at Orlando International Airport. WFTV's reporter Field Sutton said this afternoon only nine flights departing the airport were on time.

12:35 p.m.: Orange County Public Schools provided an update to parents regarding the district's severe weather policies:

12:15 p.m.: Reports of storm damage are coming in from across Central Florida, including a roof blown off of a home in Leesburg.

12:10 p.m.: A strong storm cell is headed toward Oak Hill in Volusia County, which is under a tornado warning until 12:30 p.m.

Noon: A new tornado warning is in effect until 12:30 p.m. in portions of Volusia County.

11:45 a.m.: Tornado warnings in Volusia County have been canceled.

Channel 9 meteorologist Tom Terry said as of now there are no active tornado warnings in Central Florida.

>>> Post photos of storm damage with the hashtag #StormAlert9 and WFTV may post them on air and online <<<

11:35 a.m.: Tornado warnings in Polk County have been canceled. But new severe thunderstorm warnings are now in effect for portions of Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard and Volusia counties.

11:25 a.m.: The tornado warnings in Volusia County are extended until noon.

Channel 9 meteorologist Tom Terry said storms are slamming the New Smyrna Beach and Oak Hill areas.

11:15 a.m.: A new tornado warning is effective in portions of Polk County through 11:45 a.m.

11:10 a.m.: Flight delays are being reported at the Orlando International Airport due to storms in the area. Check your flight status here.

11 a.m.: Tornado warning has expired in Seminole County but has expanded to cover more of Volusia County until 11:30 a.m. The storm is headed toward Samsula, New Smyrna Beach and Daytona Beach.

Channel 9 meteorologist Tom Terry said the storm could produce tornadoes or damaging winds. He said the storm is traveling 45 mph.

10:50 a.m.: Tornado warning issued for portions of northeastern Seminole County and Volusia County. That includes the town of Geneva and into Cow Creek.

The storm cell is on its way to New Smyrna Beach.

10:40 a.m.: Generalized delays are being reported at Orlando International Airport. Check your flight status here.

10:15 a.m.: The strongest storms are now to the east of Interstate 4.

So far, the National Weather Service Tampa Bay has confirmed one tornado related to the storms. The tornado was reported in Crooked Lake Park in Polk County.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was reported at 9:15 a.m. and that one person was injured and a home suffered roof damage during the storm.

10 a.m.: The tornado warning for Orange County has expired, but a flood advisory has been issued for Orlando until noon.

>>> Post photos of storm damage with the hashtag #StormAlert9 and WFTV may post them on air and online <<<

9:55 a.m.: A tornado warning is still in effect for portions of Orange County, including downtown Orlando and the theme parks through 10 a.m.

An additional warning covers portions of central and east Polk County through 10 a.m.

Original story: Nearly all of Central Florida is under a tornado watch and tornado warnings are popping up across the area as strong storms continue to roll in Thursday morning.

A tornado watch was issued for Central Florida through 4 p.m. Thursday with tornado warnings popping in in parts of Orange, Lake and Polk counties.

The latest tornado warning covers portions of Orange County including downtown Orlando and the theme parks. The warning goes until 10 a.m. Thursday. An additional warning is issued through 10 a.m. in portions of central and east Polk County.

There was at least one confirmed tornado near Fort Meade just before 9 a.m., said Channel 9 meteorologist George Waldenberger.

"Today will be the worst weather day of the year for Central Florida," Channel 9 meteorologist Brian Shields.


There will be at least two rounds of storms in most areas -- one arriving late morning and lasting to about noon and another squall between noon and 3 p.m, Channel 9 meteorologist Rusty McCranie said.

The main threat will be damaging winds in excess of 60 mph, isolated tornadoes and heavy rains, McCranie said.

"The main line of storms producing the severe weather risk tomorrow will move across the I-4 corridor from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.," McCranie said. "This includes Orlando, Kissimmee, Sanford and Daytona Beach."

Shields said parts of Central Florida can expect up to 2 to 3 inches of rain on Thursday.

"This is a big system moving in," Shields said. "All of us are going to get wet."

The rain will bring cooler weather starting Friday and throughout the weekend.


  • SEMINOLE: It's an early release day in Seminole County Public Schools. Officials said the school district is operating as normal so far Thursday. They said schools will continue to assess whether or not athletics or extracurricular activities will be canceled after school depending on weather conditions. Parents are also urged to check for any future alerts is dismal delays are required.
  • OSCEOLA: Officials from the Osceola County School District said schools will be following the district's emergency management plan for severe weather as those conditions arise.
  • LAKE: Lake County School officials said they are moving students out of portable classrooms into main buildings, and all absences and tardies are being excused.
  • MARION: Marion County Public Schools are closed for Christmas break.
  • VOLUSIA: Volusia County Schools are closed for winter break.
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