Packing winds up to 135 mph, a tornado ripped through Cape Coral, Florida, on January 9, damaging homes and cars. There were no deaths — but the twister could be a sign of a rough season ahead. Radio station WGCU has a report (see: "Cape Coral Tornado a "Wake Up Call" to Floridians," by Jeff Huffman).

"The tornado that hit Lee County Saturday could have a price tag of $6 Million dollars, according to Cape Coral Police," the station reported. "This might be a 'wake up call' for the rest of the state this winter. A global weather pattern such as El Nino does not create a tornado, but it can certainly make conditions more favorable for one to develop, and with little warning. That’s what happened in Cape Coral, Florida on Saturday, and it may happen again soon."

Experts say this year's global weather pattern is similar to an earlier pattern that spawned deadly tornadoes in the past, reported Fox 13 News in St. Petersburg (see: "Winter, spring bring threat of tornadoes to Florida," by Anjuli Lohn). "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," the station reported. "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."

Building codes aimed at making houses hurricane-resistant aren't strong enough to protect a house against a direct strike by a very powerful F5 tornado. However, Florida code provisions toughening houses against hurricanes could help a house stand up to most tornadoes, which are relatively weaker, or survive the experience of being at the edge of a more powerful twister. For more on that subject, see "Blown Away," by Ted Cushman (Coastal Contractor 5/07).