Remembering “The Great Miami Tornado”

Damaging tornado swept through downtown 23 years ago

Miami, FL – If you were in South Florida on May 12, 1997, then you certainly remember this one.

Usually by May, we in South Florida are thinking toward hurricane season and the perils it can bring. But spring can also bring dangerous weather in the form of severe weather, including tornadoes.

At around 2 p.m., an unusually strong tornado dropped just north of Coconut Grove, right over Silver Bluff Estates. It then crossed I-95, trekked into Downtown Miami, and entered Biscayne Bay. It would lift while over water, then touch down once again on Miami Beach, near Collins Avenue and Arthur Godfrey Road, before finally dissipating over the Atlantic.

Much of this was captured by WPLG’s towercam. It is not often that tornadoes pass through such densely populated areas, and seeing the twister weave through skyscrapers and suck water from Biscayne Bay remains an unsettling sight to this day.

The F-1 tornado, with winds to 110 mph, caused considerable damage in Little Havana, where it ripped the roof off an apartment complex. Several windows were blown out of buildings downtown, with the Citadel Building on NW 4th Street losing nearly all windows on the lowest three floors of its south side.

Many cars were damaged by flying debris. Perhaps one of the scariest events was when the tornado passed over a Metro Mover elevated rail car, derailing it in the process.

All told, the tornado tracked for 8 miles and last 15 minutes. It caused over $500 million in damage and injured 12 people. Thankfully, no one was killed.

This tornado was strong by South Florida standards. While we certainly see tornadoes here, they are typically weaker EF-0′s (the tornado rating scale was updated from F to EF in 2007). Our twisters also tend to be very short lived, unlike the stronger and longer-lasting ones from the Great Plains.

About the Author:

Luke Dorris joined the Local 10 Weather Authority just in time for Hurricane Irma in 2017.