Winter, spring bring threat of tornadoes to Florida

The National Weather Service is predicting the El Nino weather pattern will cause winter and early spring to be an active season for severe weather in Central Florida. 

Experts say the last time we saw a pattern this strong, it turned deadly.

The morning of February 23, 1998, a series of seven tornados ripped through communities in Kissimmee during the overnight hours. 42 people were killed and 260 more were injured. Three of the seven tornados were rated as powerful F3s. Meteorologists credited it to the El Nino pattern hovering over Central Florida at the time.

Unfortunately, the pattern this year is looking to be as strong or even worse.  Emergency management officials say the time to prepare is now.

"All that severe weather and the rain that goes with it, is exactly what happens in an El Nino year when the jet stream comes across, directly across Central Florida. So what you've been seeing in other states, is exactly what we should be preparing for," Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Sally Bishop said Tuesday.

The National Weather Service conducted the Great Tornado Drill on Wednesday. They want everyone to identify a place in your home and workplace where you could seek shelter if a tornado touched down in the area. Hallways, bathrooms, closets, and low-lying areas are optimal.

Emergency management officials also say having a weather radio is critical during an El Nino year. If there is an immediate threat to your area, it will issue a loud siren warning. Experts say one reason so many people died in the 1998 tornados was because it happened overnight when most people were sleeping.