'Great Miami Tornado' remembered 20 years later

F-1 tornado injured 12 as it tore swath across Miami, Biscayne Bay

MIAMI – Friday marks the 20th anniversary of the "Great Miami Tornado," which became one of the most documented tornadoes in modern history.

It was a relatively quiet afternoon on May 12, 1997, when a tornado touched down about 2 p.m. in Miami, making headlines around the world.

The F-1 tornado terrorized Miami residents for about 15 minutes, moving east-northeast through downtown while miraculously bypassing the city's skyscrapers. It crossed the MacArthur and Venetian causeways on its way to Miami Beach, sideswiping a cruise ship.

Although nobody was killed, 12 injuries were reported, and the damage was intense.

The tornado smashed cars and windows, tossed trees and toppled power lines. After cutting across Biscayne Bay, the tornado flipped over a car before dissipating.

Local 10 News had live team coverage of the tornado. A tower camera on what was then the First Union high-rise building (now the Southeast Financial Center) in downtown documented the tornado's movement.

"A very typical tornado, but very untypical as far as South Florida is concerned to actually catch one like this and see one as vividly displayed as we do right here," Local 10's now-retired former chief meteorologist Don Noe said at the time.

Indeed, the tornado was highly photographed and recorded in an era that predated cellphone cameras. There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, yet images and videos from that day were widely seen across the globe.

The tornado's maximum winds reached about 110 mph.