Storms soak Tampa, disrupting Independence Day parties

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A severe storm soaked Independence Day revelers in downtown Tampa on Thursday and even sent some inflatable slides drifting down the Hillsborough River, but the rain is expected to clear out by fireworks time this evening.

It was around 2 p.m. when a strong storm popped up in northern Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. As the storm grew, it slid southeast, pummeling Tampa with heavy rain and frequent lightning. Pea-sized hail was reported in the Channelside area, and crowds who had gathered along the Hillsborough River ahead of tonight's fireworks had to head inside.

Among the casualties were the bounce houses at Armature Works. Joey Wannamaker told FOX 13 high winds blew tents and inflatable bounce houses and slides into the water.

"You see it on the news all the time -- a bounce house taking off flying. But it was pretty exciting to see an actual bounce house get up in the air and take off and fly into the river," he offered. "The wind actually started to blow it up the river."

There were no reports of any injuries.

Lightning also caused damage at a home on Carioca Road in Holiday.

"I think the lightning hit the tree," said Sead Neziri, whose porch was damaged. "It made the marks, went into the wall, shot that way and exploded."

Lightning bolts from an early morning storm cell briefly knocked out power to his home.

"It was like a big flash, couldn't believe it," he said. "All I remember was 'bam, boom,'" said Neziri. "It just sounded like a bomb went off, really."

He is hoping insurance will cover the damage to his porch, garage door, and appliances.

"I am so thankful I wasn't outside or anything to take a peek. The amount of power I felt in the back of my house, I just can't even describe."

Further south, in Citrus Park, trees took a beating. Lightning took down a limb, blocking a lane of traffic on Gunn Highway. 

And in Tampa, police say a car hydroplaned and knocked into a TECO pole.  That crashed closed Causeway while workers got power lines off the road.

One benefit of the rain was a welcome cool-down. The National Weather Service had earlier issued their third heat advisory of the summer for the Tampa Bay area -- the first year since 2010 with more than one such advisory. 

Areas that did not get rain were still experiencing feels-like temperatures of 105 or more.