Path length: 2.6 miles
Width: 500 yards
SPC coordinates: Only have one point: 27.83/-82.70
Corrected Coordinates Based on Survey Map in Storm Data:
Start: 27.849637 / -82.726600 End: 27.888012 / -82.720714
Note: Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.
It was Saturday morning, October 3, 1992. Many residents in Pinellas Park were quietly making their way through their Saturday chores or working on home projects. Retired couples were watching their favorite shows in their recliners or playing cards in the front rooms of their mobile homes. Little did they know that unexpected severe thunderstorms were about to erupt across their little corner of west-central Florida. Three tornadoes were produced in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area that morning. Two of the twisters caused fatalities. This summary details the strongest and most deadly tornado to occur on this day.
The National Weather Service (NWS) survey denotes the beginning of the path just south of the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad near 66th Street. The only evidence of damage was some toppled trees south of the railroad tracks. The tornado moved to the north-northeast and produced severe roof and wall damage to an apartment complex south of 94th Avenue. Debris from the apartments was blown across the street into Helen S. Howarth Community Park. Numerous trees were uprooted or snapped in the park.
The tornado increased in intensity as it moved away from the park. The most significant devastation occurred over the next mile from near 102nd Avenue North to an industrial park just east of Pinellas Park High School. This is a very densely populated area with a mix of single-family houses and mobile homes. Some of the houses were all-brick construction. The newspapers at the time highlighted several reports from the community. There were many stories of survival, but sadly, three people did lose their lives that day.
Freddie McClintic had just returned home from the beauty parlor. She turned on the television and started making her husband, Al, a sandwich. She told the Tampa Bay Times that she had remarked to Al how black it was outside. “I turned around to see if he heard me and the room exploded.” She made her way to the hallway, and her husband crouched in a corner. The back of their house was demolished. “Her husband’s treasured collection of eagle statues was smashed, but, eerily, the butterfly magnets on the refrigerator remained in place.”
W. H. Wienecke and his wife Evelyn lived near the McClintic’s. They were both in their lounge chairs trying to stay awake during an episode of “This Old House.” “I was very rudely awakened by stuff hitting me in the face,” 78-year-old Evelyn told the Tampa Bay Times. “I stood up. The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t move.” Their two-story home was left a pile of rubble in mere seconds. Wienecke told The Bradenton Herald this was the second time he and his wife had lost a home in the Sunshine State. “We’re moving the hell out of Florida.”
The Park Royale Village Trailer Park contained 309 units. The twister destroyed 87 lots, and 63 others were partially demolished. Per the Natural Disaster Survey Report, “aerial photos indicated that the tornado may have evolved into a multiple vortex storm” over the trailer park. Also from the survey report, “inspection of the damage from the ground indicated that some of the mobile home frames were still tied down, while the walls and roof pulled away from the frame. Further inspection revealed that the walls were held down by nails to the frame, and that the walls probably pulled up away from the frame.” Two of the three fatalities occurred at Park Royale.
Jerry Gould lived in a mobile home at Park Royale and made it to safety under a kitchen table. When he emerged to the outside world, all he saw was destruction – and his friend, Chick McGrath, buried under debris. “He was pinned from the waist down,” Gould told the Tampa Bay Times. “We dug him out. Then put him on a mat. He was mainly concerned about his wife, Mary. He kept calling her.” They found Mary wrapped in a blanket, sitting on the opposite side of the couple’s mobile home.
Along with other neighbors, Jerry Gould continued to dig folks out of the rubble. “I was bouncing around all over the place,” Gould stated. “It’s amazing in the park how the people got together. Young kids – They were pitching in.”
Mary McGrath was interviewed a year after the event by the Tampa Bay Times. She explained that her husband had been taken to Bayfront Medical Center after the tornado. Before being transported there, he looked at Mary and said, “I’ll never recover from this.” Six and a half months later, 81-year-old Chick McGrath died. He had been in the hospital since the tornadoes of October 3. It was not expressed in the article if his death was directly related to injuries sustained from the tornado or if it was an indirect result. The official record does not capture this fatality.
“There were times when he was in the hospital that he would mouth the words, ‘Let me die,’ Mary told the paper. “He couldn’t talk because they had a tube (for a respirator) in his throat. It’s what I feel the worst about. We never got to talk again.”
Harry Sieg looked outside and watched as his porch was ripped from his mobile home. He dropped to the floor and pulled a La-Z-Boy recliner on top of himself. The windows imploded, and glass flew everywhere. “It was like a bomb went off, “ he told the Tampa Bay Times. Harry had cuts on his head and arm but knew it could have been much worse. While looking for valuables, Harry looked over at the La-Z-Boy and commented, “The thing saved my life. That sumbitch. I ought to take that thing for a trophy.” Harry didn’t stay at Pinellas Park. He was interviewed a year after the event in The Tampa Tribune. “I just couldn’t live with the memories of the devastation and the friends we lost,” he said. Harry moved to Clearwater, FL.
Glenn Moore left just minutes before the tornado hit to go to the store. His wife Theresa, 63, remained at their Park Royale mobile home. The couple split their time between Pinellas Park during the winter and Toms River, NJ in the summer. Theresa loved roller skating, and per the Tampa Bay Times, they were in town for the World Artistic Roller Skating Championships in Tampa. The tornado roared through Park Royale, and the Moore home was torn from the ground, lifted at least 30 feet into the air, and then thrown against a residential house 50 yards away. Glenn came back from the store to find an empty lot, and the love of his life passed away. The day after the tornado, Glenn began the arduous task of looking for items that belonged to him and Theresa. Per the Tampa Bay Times, “He sorted through the debris but the only things he could salvage were two suitcases and her roller skates.”
Ethel and B.P. Carter lived across the street from where the Moore home had landed. They heard the ferocious winds and managed to get to their bathroom to shelter. Per the Orlando Sentinel, “When they emerged – Ethel shaken and B.P. in his pajamas – they saw before them mangled metal, a crushed car and their mementos turned into confetti.” Shortly after, B.P. suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. At the time of the event, he was expected to recover.
William and Amelia “Millie” Riehl were playing cards at their mobile home. Millie glanced out the window and commented how the wind had really picked up. Suddenly, their trailer was hit. Per The Tampa Tribune on October 6, 1992, “Their double-wide trailer home was split in two. One side landed a hundred yards away, the other landed a few yards beyond, next to a trailer where a neighbor died.” That neighbor was Theresa Moore.
William was found in a ditch three blocks away and taken to Metropolitan General Hospital. He was treated for cuts and bruises on his back. The couple’s son, Ken, visited his father at the hospital. The first thing his dad said to him was, “find your mother.” Ken and a cousin followed leads that his mother had been found or was staying at a shelter. However, none of them panned out. They worked alongside city crews for two days digging through the debris in hopes of finding her. “I’m working on the assumption that she is in here,” Ken told The Tampa Tribune. “The worst scenario is that she is.”
Three search and rescue dogs from the Florida Association of Search Teams and Emergency Rescue joined the effort the Monday after the tornado. “The dogs climbed over jagged edges and onto 15-feet high piles of rubble, trying to sort out the scents of dozens of different lives piled together.”
Millie’s body was discovered by one of the dogs. She was buried in approximately five feet of debris. The body was near an area where her son had found her bowling ball earlier in the day. The medical examiner said the 80-year-old woman died instantly after being hit in the head with flying debris.
After plowing through Park Royale, the tornado made its way through the Beacon Run and Autumn Run Subdivisions. The third fatality occurred in this area.
Sambecca Shotts was in the garage with her two children, 14-year-old son Johnny and 10-year-old daughter Angela. As the tornado rushed their way, she yelled for them to go back into the house. They made it inside, but sadly, their mother did not. “The boy saw the roof fall in on his mother,” said Martha Gilson, Sambecca’s mother-in-law in the Tampa Bay Times. “But he hasn’t cried. It’s going to hit him hard.” The loving mother was killed. Allen Shotts, Sambecca’s husband, was at work when the storm hit. The Shotts family lived in a brick house in the Beacon Run subdivision. The children were not injured. One of their dogs, Moka, was killed when the garage roof collapsed. Sambecca was active at her church. Per the Tampa Bay Times, she volunteered to help those with special needs shop and clean their homes. She worked as a secretary with BCH Mechanical in Largo. That company set up a fund in her name to help pay for the children’s college education.
Sharon Sanders shared her story of survival with the Tampa Bay Times. The elementary school teacher had just finished working on paying bills when “things started crashing through her back window.” Sharon grabbed the edge of the door that led to her garage. “I just held on and screamed,” Sanders told the paper. She could see a large black object being hurled her way. It was her neighbor’s black pickup truck, but luckily it turned and went away from her home. “I kept saying, “God, please don’t let the hinges rip loose.” The winds died down, and Sharon was safe. She had minor cuts on her head and leg.
Derrel and Loretta Gordon lived in the Beacon Run Subdivision. The tornadic winds tore away half of their home. The garage and an attic above it were demolished. Derrel was home with their 20-year-old son Grey. They dove under a mattress in the spare bedroom and escaped injury. Loretta stored canceled checks for insurance purposes in that attic. “I got a call from someone in Spring Hill who found one of the checks,” Loretta said in The Tampa Bay Times. Spring Hill is in Hernando County, 50 miles away. Loretta told the caller she didn’t need the check and that they could keep it as a souvenir. More checks from the Gordon’s were discovered in New Port Richey and Hudson.
Curtis Crowder and Regina Kowalska had bought their first home together a week before the tornado. It was a two-bedroom, two-bath, with a pool and a tall oak tree. The couple worked the entire week refinishing the floor, putting in carpet, and painting the walls. They were out shopping for paint when the tornado hit. Per The Tampa Bay Times, “the tornado ripped the roof off most of their house and laid rafters over the swimming pool. The oak was uprooted and now sits in a neighbor’s yard, three houses down. Inside, shards of glass and hunks of drywall covered the floor. Bits of insulation were everywhere. The wall – at least the walls that were standing – still had their fresh coat of paint.”
Regina and Curtis were shocked to return to find their new home in ruins. Curtis was mainly concerned about an item in the garage that was very special to him. The couple had talked about marriage but hadn’t “made it official.” Inside a box in the garage, Curtis had hidden a diamond ring that had belonged to his great-grandmother. When he checked, it was missing. “I looked all around and couldn’t find anything,” Crowder told the paper. The search continued, and Curtis finally found the jewelry box. While standing in the garage, Curtis asked Regina to marry him. She said yes.
Mary Jane Mattull had just lost her husband three weeks before the tornado. Per the Tampa Bay Times, “His last wish was that his wife spread his ashes across the gulf waters at Fort Myers Beach, where they had honeymooned.” The devoted wife placed her husband’s remains on a bedroom shelf and had planned to leave them there until the family could gather to honor his wishes. Mary Jane spent the next few weeks working on the home. This included hiring a contractor to put on a new roof. The work had just been completed a few days before the tornado. Mary Jane was in the home off Cedarbrook Drive with her daughter. The house was “leveled,” but they both were able to crawl out of the debris to safety. “The main thing I was concerned about after I knew my daughter was safe was my husband’s ashes,” Mary Jane told the Tampa Bay Times. The new roof ended up on the box that contained the ashes. “It took several men to lift up the roof beams so we could get the box out,” said Mary Jane. The remains were safe, and Mary Jane could carry out her husband’s last request. She told the paper, “You know. My daughter had a dream last night that her dad appeared and asked if we were okay. I feel somewhere he must be watching over us or we might not have made it through this.”
Elkin D’Leon and his wife Gloria were at their Autumn Run home. He noticed debris flying through the air and called his wife over to see. As she emerged from the bedroom, a window blew out, and there was a “boom.” Per the Tampa Bay Times, the couple “were lifted, spinning in the air, and tossed to separate sides of the home.” Every wall in the house had collapsed. One of the cars was tossed 100 feet and another approximately 300 feet. Gloria was rushed to the hospital and treated for head injuries. Elkin had scrapes and bruises but was at home working on clean-up the day after. The paper talked to Elkin’s brother William. “Somebody was watching out for them, a guardian angel or something. They could have been dead.”
“Everything that was in our living room is in our kitchen, and everything in our kitchen is in our garage.” Kathy Hyatt, who was 6 ½ months pregnant when the tornado struck their Autumn Run house, made that statement to the Associated Press. She was at home with her husband, Tom, and children, ages 8 and 2. “I crouched down and then heard the windows pop in the bedroom, so I ran back into the shower and pulled the shower curtain over me,” Kathy said. Tom took the children into another bathroom and protected them. The family emerged from the destruction without injury.
We interviewed Dave Clute, who was living in Palm Harbor, FL, on October 3, 1992. He recalled that morning seeing pieces of insulation wrapped around sticks all across his front yard. Palm Harbor is a good 10-12 miles north of Pinellas Park. He had no idea that storms had been occurring to his south. Dave had plans to see his friend Gene later in the day, who lived in Pinellas Park. By early afternoon, he got a call from Gene, who said, “can you come down now instead of later?” Gene’s home in the Beacon Run area had been hit. Dave and his wife at the time made the trek down US 19. The closer he got to Gene’s home, the more debris and mounds of insulation he had to navigate through. Police stopped Dave at the front of the subdivision. They said he could go in if Gene met them. Per Dave, “we had to leave our car at the front because there were just hardly any paths to drive. So we start walking, and I remember turning the corner. On one of the streets, just the devastation was amazing, my wife started crying and she’s giving hugs. And we get down to his house. Just unbelievable. I remember, my biggest takeaway was the huge debris piles, up and over houses.”
Gene and his wife were not at home when the tornado struck. His wife was at work. Gene was planning on changing the oil in his car in the garage but decided to register to vote before doing so. During the short time away, Gene’s entire neighborhood was devastated. Like Dave hours later, Gene could not drive to his residence; he had to walk to it. Dave said, “he got there and in his garage, where he was going to have his car jacked up to change his oil, the two-car garage door had come off and was spinning. You could see the marks on the cement, where it had been spinning, just spinning around. And if his car had been jacked up and he was under it at the time – it came so fast – Who knows?”
Dave described the damage to Gene’s home. He said all of the windows imploded. Electrical outlets were pulled right out of the sockets. One side of the garage had wicker baskets full of kindling on a wooden shelving unit. None of that was touched. On the other side, dirt and debris were splattered against the walls. Dave said you could see a crack line where the roof had lifted off. A shovel and some other tools were pulled under the roof before it landed back on top of them.
Gene and his wife were worried about their dogs. They hadn’t seen them since the tornado hit. Dave said they started scooping out the pool. There was dark stuff at the bottom of it, and they were concerned the dogs were inside. Fortunately, they only found mounds of pine tree needles and a grill. The dogs were eventually located about four houses away from Gene’s. A lady discovered them in the corner of a yard where some fences came together, huddled and scared.
Dave spent the rest of the day helping Gene tarp the roof and take photos for the insurance company. They walked around the neighborhood, helping people where they could. Dave recalled the Salvation Army showing up in their “white buggies.” They were handing out sandwiches and water to the residents.
Gene and his wife were able to find temporary housing. A friend who was out of town for a few months let them use his condo, and then the insurance company put them in an apartment. Dave said it took about six months before they could move back into their home.
Jim and Judi Everette lived off Elmhurst Drive. They were sponsors for two exchange students from Saudi Arabia, Marwan and Alaa. Marwan had arrived in the United States just hours before the tornado. The storm clouds outside led to a discussion about the weather. Marwan did not speak any English. “I was teaching them what the word for lightning was, what thunder was, what a hurricane was, and what a tornado was,” said Judi to The Tampa Bay Times. “They asked me what you do in the case of a tornado.” She advised them to go to the bathroom, away from the windows. Judi looked outside and saw the darkness. “We will go now,” she told the exchange students. The three of them got into a small bathroom and began to pray. “We were each praying in our own language and to our own god.” The house was smashed. The bathroom, though, was mainly untouched and Judi and her students were uninjured. “That, on his first full day here. Can you imagine?” Judi told the paper. On one of the still-standing walls, there were several crosses that didn’t move at all. A mobile that read: “Day by Day, These three things I pray….” also stayed in place.
Sadly, Jim and Judi Everette struggled over the next year after the tornado. In an update from the Tampa Bay Times in October of 1993, it was stated that the couple had lived in six rental apartments since the disaster. “Their new, high-tech, energy-efficient house was suppoed to be done in March. The builder says he has run out of money for the $70,000 house and hasn’t worked on it in a month.”
Many things are hidden in the mounds of debris after a tornado plows through a community. This is the first time we have ever heard of someone finding a missile. The Raymond family were clawing through mounds of rubble at the Elmhurst Drive home. Per The Tampa Bay Times, “they kept stepping on something that looked like an old sprinkler head.” Charles Raymond looked closer and quickly determined that it was no sprinkler head. It was a “foot-long olive-green cylinder” that read “rocket.” The police were called in and hauled the unarmed missile away in a cooler. No one knew how the rocket got there.
The twister continued its track to the north, crossing Bryan Dairy Road and paralleling 62nd Street North. It was in a weakening stage at this point, but damage still occurred near a high school and at an industrial park.
Chris Christopher was inside the Atlas Restaurant Equipment Company near 66th Street. He was on the phone with his wife, who was telling him about the storm. The 4800 square foot building began to collapse. In the Tampa Bay Times, Chris was quoted, “I screamed, ‘My God! The building is coming down’ Then I put the phone down. It all happened so fast, in about five or 10 seconds. I just had enough time to jump from behind my desk.” The company’s showroom was littered with debris, and all outside walls were gone. His truck was crushed by a walk-in cooler. Christopher told the paper that a beam had landed on his knee. That was his only injury.
The western edge of the tornadic winds swiped Pinellas Park High School. Approximately 40 students and eight teachers were at the school that Saturday morning. No one was injured. Custodian Alphonso Huntley told the Tampa Bay Times that large chunks of the school’s roof “blew away or caved in.” The football scoreboard, the driver’s education tower, and several trees were toppled. A storage shed was “nearly flattened, exposing shelves of office supplies.” A building at the industrial park had roof and wall damage. The tornado dissipated near 126th Avenue North.
Newspapers immediately began reporting that no warnings were issued for the tornadoes of October 3, 1992. The NWS forecaster on duty at the Ruskin office, Chuck Eggleton, was interviewed for the Tampa Bay Times on October 4. He said he didn’t issue a warning because nothing was on the radar screen to indicate storms were present. “Even severe thunderstorms weren’t detected, and severe thunderstorms are something we would normally warn for.” Paul Hebert, meteorologist in charge at the NWS Miami, was also interviewed. He indicated that the Miami staff determined “a full day earlier that the big mass of stormy weather bearing down on Florida from the Gulf of Mexico was likely to generate tornadoes.” Did the Ruskin office see that potential as well? It was also reported that the Ruskin radar “can’t detect the presence of tornadoes.” They were not scheduled to get the newest generation radar until 1995. The Tampa Bay Times documented that the NOAA weather radio broadcast “went to low-power transmission” late that Saturday morning. It then went silent “after an air-conditioning unit failed and the transmitter overheated.” By the time it came back up, the tornado threat had ended.
It was already determined at this point that a disaster survey team would be formed to analyze what happened and make recommendations for improvement in warning and forecast services. The group issued its final report in July of 1993. In the executive summary portion of the document, it was stated that NWS meteorologists at the National Severe Storms Forecast Center (NSSFC), the Weather Service Forecast Office in Miami, and the Weather Service Office in Tampa Bay “did not expect tornadoes on the morning of October 3, 1992.” NWS offices launch weather balloons twice a day to sample atmospheric conditions. The first launch that morning was unsuccessful due to balloon icing. A second launch occurred at 8:30 AM ET, and it indicated conditions were ripe for severe weather. The data received, though, was delayed due to the failure of the first launch.
The executive summary revealed that as the balloon information reached the Severe Local Storms forecaster in Kansas City, “the mid-morning Severe Weather Outlook was revised to include a slight risk of severe thunderstorms for the Tampa Bay area. Although this updated Severe Weather Outlook was disseminated 40 minutes before the next routine issuance was due, it was too late to heighten the awareness of forecasters in the field to the impending disaster; just minutes later the first tornado struck Largo, FL. With perfect hindsight, because of the impressive nature of the new data, the Severe Local Storms forecaster in Kansas City probably should have gone ahead and issued a tornado watch first, and then update the Severe Weather Outlook afterwards.”
A resident in the Largo area phoned the Tampa Bay office and alerted them that “a tornado had touched down in Largo.” The report was confirmed with the Pinellas County Emergency Management office. Since the event was over, the NWS issued a Severe Weather Statement versus a warning.
Next, the executive summary addressed the issues with the radar. The forecasters in Tampa were using a WSR-57 radar. “Their radar did not show typical tornadic signatures or other characteristics associated with severe storms. Post-analysis of the data from the new Doppler radar (WSR-88D) in Melbourne revealed that even at the fringe of its range it sensed these distant storms. However, the severe weather signatures on the WSR-88D were momentary. The lone forecaster on duty, occupied with severe storms over Melbourne’s marine forecast area, could not have been expected to identify these brief clues on the edge of the radar display.” It was determined that if the Tampa office had had a WSR-88D, the forecasters would have seen the approaching storms and “more timely warnings would likely have resulted.”
The Tampa office continued to receive calls about damage and another tornado report in Treasure Island. At this time, a tornado warning was issued for Pinellas County. “By the time the warning was disseminated, the tornado had already struck Pinellas Park. The forty Pinellas Park residents who were interviewed heard or saw the tornado approaching. Sound and/or sight was the only warning most of the resdients had of the deadly storm. Given the amount of destruction in Pinellas Park, the number of deaths and serious injuries could have been higher but for the swift and correct actions of the majority of residents when they saw or heard the tornado. Most knew tornado safety rules and most took proper actions.”
The Tampa Bay Times, 4 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/324096475/
The Tampa Bay Times, 5 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/324126375/
The Tampa Bay Times, 13 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/323575127/
The Tampa Bay Times, 3 Oct. 1993. https://www.newspapers.com/image/324588523/
The Tampa Tribune, 4 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/339304798/
The Tampa Tribune, 3 Oct. 1993. https://www.newspapers.com/image/339486223/
South Florida Sun Sentinel, 4 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/238289000/
The Bradenton Herald, 4 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/719521848/
The Miami Herald, 5 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/637571100/
The Orlando Sentinel, 5 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/231070703/
The Napa Valley Register, 4 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/565064543/
The Herald, 5 Oct. 1992. https://www.newspapers.com/image/541399091/
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