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Waterspout whipped onshore as tornado, downing trees and spooking South Florida residents

South Florida residents get a scare from tornado that rose from the sea
South Florida residents get a scare from tornado that rose from the sea

GOLDEN BEACH, Fla. – A massive waterspout rose up out of the sea and briefly came onshore as a tornado Wednesday, snapping trees in half and causing some anxious moments for residents on both sides of the Miami-Dade/Broward border.

The National Weather Service says the waterspout was first spotted around 1:14 p.m. off Sunny Isles Beach and came onshore around 1:20 p.m. in northern Golden Beach, becoming a tornado.

It quickly went back offshore and then dissipated, but not before its winds tore down trees, tossed around some outdoor furniture and damaged the metal gates of several ocean-facing homes. No injuries have been reported.

“I started seeing chairs flying in the air and that’s when I knew something big was coming in,” said Julio Grisales, who works nearby.

He tried to take cover in a garage, but the pressure from the wind kept the doors from closing.

“My heart was racing and I was really scared for my life. I thought I was going to fly away,” Grisales said.

There and gone in about three minutes, the tornado reached peak winds of 80-85 mph, according to the weather service.

Julio Grisales fixes a front gate after a tornado briefly struck Golden Beach in Miami-Dade County on Wednesday afternoon. (WPLG)

The Miami office of the National Weather Service warned boaters to avoid the area when the waterspout was first seen.

“Mariners, if you are on the water, move to safe harbor immediately!! Large confirmed waterspout with strong to damaging winds elsewhere,” they tweeted.

Tornadic waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water and have the same characteristics as a land tornado, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are associated with severe thunderstorms and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, and frequently dangerous lightning.

Video shot by Aventura resident Jenny Faith from her apartment shows the waterspout forming:

Watch large waterspout form just off the coast of South Florida
Watch large waterspout form just off the coast of South Florida

People in Hallandale Beach and elsewhere in the area also spotted it.

Aventura resident Randi Levine watched the “scary sight” from a home balcony.

“It happened so quick and I bet no one had time to do anything,” Levine said in an email. “I have to say this was a scary sight to watch in a matter of what seemed seconds with no warning.”

Others sent in cellphone video, some with narration of what they were seeing.

“So what’s it doing out there picking up water?” asked a woman in one of those shared videos. “I hope it doesn’t pick up our house.”

Even the experts were blown away — proverbially.

Local 10 meteorologist Luke Dorris called it “one of the most impressive tornadoes I’ve seen here.”

Golden Beach employee Brian Phillips said crews immediately got to work clearing debris from the road to keep traffic flowing — but not before taking a minute to marvel at Mother Nature.

“It’s not my first time, but I’m excited to see it again,” he said. “Close up. I’m a big fan of tornadoes.”

The Local 10 Weather Authority is tracking more thunderstorms in the area Wednesday evening. For the latest radar and forecast, click here.

Below are some more photos snapped by our viewers:

Local 10 viewer Audra Cozza shared this photo of a waterspout seen from Hallandale Beach. (Photo courtesy of Audra Cozza)
Local 10 viewer Chris Wheeler shared this photo of a waterspout spotted in Aventura near Waterways Marina. (Photo courtesy of Chris Wheeler)

About the Authors:

David Selig is the Digital Executive Producer at WPLG, overseeing Local10.com.

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.