JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A thunderstorm with high winds, heavy rain and hail moved through the core of Jacksonville and into St. Johns and Clay counties Monday afternoon, spawning a tornado warning, blowing down trees and drenching some holiday plans.
A severe thunderstorm warning was issued about 12:30 p.m. as the compact but intense storm gathered strength in northeast Duval County, then moved south across eastern Jacksonville, brushing past downtown and moving across the Southside.
Just before Duval County's warning expired at 2 p.m. the National Weather Service extended the severe thunderstorm warning into eastern Clay and Western St. Johns counties.
A few minutes later, Doppler indicated rotation in the cell near Switzerland and issued a tornado warning for western St. Johns and eastern Clay County, but it was allowed to expire with no sightings of a funnel cloud.
The storm continued moving slowly to the south.
Clay County Emergency Management issued an order to evacuate the park at Green Cove Springs where residents were gathered for a Memorial Day event.
Riverfest in Green Cove Springs has been a Memorial Day tradition for the last 25 years, and the Chief of Police Robert Muscow said he's never seen a storm like this one shut down festivities.
"We've had rainstorms, but we haven't had this type of activity. Rain for maybe 35-40 minutes, but not the high wind and possible hail," Muscow said. "We were most worried about lightning, safety for the citizens first."
Organizers of Memorial Day Riverfest reopened the park after the weather cleared and resumed the event, including fireworks after sunset.
"It got real black, real fast. Didn't look like it was going to blow over, but we sat in the van for a while and waited for it to pass over," said Green Cove Springs resident Gene Mikell, who was out at Riverfest. "We started seeing people coming back out. We decided to get out and not let it ruin our Memorial Day. It only happens once a year."
Dark skies, followed by gusty winds, lightning, then heavy rain with some hail moved across the area. The first report of damage was a downed fence in Arlington, but the storm left a trail of downed limbs a couple of toppled trees, other debris and reports of hail from across the area.
Raymond Soloman was inside his store in Arlington when the hailstorm began.
"I have never seen it like this," Soloman said. "I've been here 70 years."
The wild weather also hit a neighborhood in Fruit Cove hard, and neighbors were busy Monday night cleaning up trees and waiting for power to be restored.
One tree fell right next to Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Jacksonville's Eastside, but it didn't damage the church at all.
"This is the last thing I expected from the rain; rain puts me to sleep," Nola Laveaux said. "(I was) walking around from the corner store after I woke up, and was like 'Wow, that's why we don't have power.'"
Members of Pleasant Grove weren't the only ones breathing a sigh of relief. Sean Charles' truck was crushed in the storm Monday, but Charles was thankful he wasn't as well.
"Almost 60 seconds after I got out of the van, it fell," Charles said of the tree that hit his vehicle.
The winds were so strong in Fruit Cove that neighbors thought a small tornado touched down in their area. Channel 4 reached out to the National Weather Service to ask about any tornadoes in Jacksonville on Monday, but weather service crews were still reviewing data and pictures from the storm.