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Tornado blew through Islamorada Sunday night, forecasters confirm

A wood partition separating patios at the Plantation Villas condominium is knocked to its side. It blew over Sunday night in what the National Weather Service says may have been a tornado
A wood partition separating patios at the Plantation Villas condominium is knocked to its side. It blew over Sunday night in what the National Weather Service says may have been a tornado For FlKeysnews.com

A tornado damaged parts of the Upper Florida Keys from Plantation Key to Tavernier Sunday night, National Weather Service forecasters confirmed Monday afternoon.

The National Weather Service in Key West determined the storm was an EF-1 tornado, which means it had wind speeds of between 86 to 110 mph, said Senior Forecaster Chip Kasper.

Forecasters base the EF, or Enhanced Fujita, scale on how much damage a tornado causes. The scale ranges from EF-0 to EF-5.

"This was not the weakest tornado, but it was one step above an EF-0," Kasper said.

Some of the hardest-hit areas were near San Pedro Catholic Church, mile marker 89.5, ocean side. On the church's property, a large mahogany tree was completely uprooted and another large tree was split, Kasper said. The storm damaged some of the tiles on the church's roof, Kasper said.

Several residents of the Indian Waterways subdivision off mile marker 89.2 on the bay side of U.S. 1 reported “doors ripped off their hinges,” said Alan Albanese, senior forecaster with National Weather Service Key West.

Islamorada Fire Rescue responded to the neighborhood around 9:50 p.m.

South Florida experienced heavy winds, rains and thunderstorms Sunday night. Smith Shoal Light, about 10 miles northwest of Key West, recorded wind gusts of 55 mph. There were also strong gusts reported on the mainland, including a 68 mph gust in Pahokee in Palm Beach County, Albanese said.

Around noon Monday, Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service Key West's warning coordinator meteorologist, traveled to Plantation Key to conduct a storm survey to determine if Sunday's wild weather fit the criteria to be considered a tornado.

William Gray, who lives on Apache Street, one street to the south of Indian Mound Trail in the Indian Waterways neighborhood on Plantation Key, said the storm was loud, but the damage to his home was minimal.

"It was moving pretty fast," Gray said. "It took my gas grill and moved it from the west side of the house to the east side of the house."

The wood partition wall that separates Patty Murphy's Plantation Villas condominium patio from her neighbor's unit blew down, but her neighbor's section was untouched.

"Her orchid is still hanging," Murphy said.

Gray said the spring brings violent storms to Islamorada every year, but tornadoes are rare.

"We're in the open Gulf. It doesn't slow anything down," Gray said. "We get these fronts this time of year."

David Goodhue: 305-923-9728

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