Why do we get tornadoes in South Florida?

By Luke Dorris - Meteorologist

MIAMI - It’s another part of life in paradise… occasional tornadoes. Sunday night was a reminder that twisters do threaten our neighborhoods from time to time, as a football field-wide, 85 mph EF-0 tornado briefly hit Hialeah.

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Here are some quick facts for tornadoes in South Florida:

Most common months for tornadoes: June – October (though we can get them during any month)

Strongest tornadoes: While less common, late winter-early spring tends to bring stronger tornadoes

Most likely time of the day for tornadoes to occur: Afternoon and evening

Average number of tornadoes each year: 8

Tornado strength: Generally weak, EF0 to EF1 (scale goes to EF5). The strongest tornadoes recorded in South Florida have been EF3.

So how do we get tornadoes?

There are three ways: 

1) Tropical Cyclones:  The majority of South Florida tornadoes are spawned by landfalling tropical cyclones 

As the cyclones roll ashore, the winds near the surface slow down as they hit trees and buildings. The winds higher up in the storm are stronger. This difference in wind speed causes a horizontal invisible tube of air to rotate parallel to the ground. This rotating tube is then sucked up into the storms, spawning tornadoes.

2) Waterspouts: These are quite common in the summer. They form as warm, moisture-rich air over the water rises into a developing cloud. There doesn’t even have to be a thunderstorm! While waterspouts are generally weak, they can occasionally cause damage.

3) Supercell Thunderstorms: These are the Grand-Daddies to all thunderstorms. They rotate and can spawn severe weather, including tornadoes. Supercells can be by themselves, or embedded in a squall-line with other storms. 

The good news is that the conditions that allow tornadoes to form can usually be seen by meteorologists several days out, especially the stronger ones that come from supercells and tropical cyclones. 

When tornadoes are possible, a Tornado Watch is issued. A Tornado Warnings is issued when a tornado may be occurring. We will always notify you when a tornado threatens on Local10 and at Local10.com.

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