JACKSONVILLE, Fla – The strong cold front that brought periods of heavy rain across our area Thursday spawned a small tornado in Columbia County.
The confirmed EF1 tornado that touched down in Wellborn brought estimated winds up to 95 mph that uprooted oak trees around the home of Sharon Coats.
But Coats, who was at work when the storm hit, said she felt like she dodged a bullet. She said her mother called her to tell her a tornado had touched down near their homes but that her family and friends were unharmed.
"It bothered me because I knew I had a lot of oak trees around my house," Coats said, "until she told me my house was OK."
Trees that Coats planted nearly 30 years ago were uprooted and some were splintered like twigs.
"I'm just glad our homes are safe," Coats said. "I'm not worried about the tree. We can always put more trees in the yard."
The National Weather Service confirmed to Channel 4's John Gaughan that the tornado's path was a half-mile long and 50 yards wide.
Along with the tornado damage in Wellborn, winds or rain from the storm caused the awning at the Sonic Drive-In in Palatka to collapse. It didn't, however, stop the restaurant from serving customers.
No funnel was sighted during a tornado warning in Putnam County in the afternoon, but students at area schools were held late at school until the system moved on.
"My kids attend James A. Long Elementary," said Jakita Brinson. "They had a recorded voice call (to) let them know children were taking precautions at school -- that they would be holding buses and kids getting out late."
Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties were under tornado warnings from about 1:45 p.m. to nearly 3 p.m. Over the next hour the storm moved across central St. Johns County and out to sea.
More than 1,000 lightning strikes were recorded with the storm cell, which was part of a large, complex and "out-of-season" system moving across the country during the last few days.
"It was crazy — could barely see anything," said Angela Morales, who was trying to drive through the thunderstorm. "It was a mess; almost had to pull over."
Most locations saw about a half inch of rain but a few locations saw as much as two inches of rain on Thursday. Skies cleared in metro Jacksonville about 3 p.m.
Once the front passes, temperatures will drop to near 60 by Friday morning and into the 50s Saturday morning. Afternoon highs will stay in the 70s.