VENICE — Meteorologists and officials are looking into what caused damage at a Venice Publix on Monday evening.
“From the descriptions I’ve received, it seems like a 50-mile per hour microburst,” Tampa Bay Area National Weather Service Senior Meteorologist Rick Davis said.
There were no reported injuries.
The parking lot at the Publix Super Market at Venice Commons in the 1400 block of Venice Avenue had cars thrust into one another and trees ripped down by the sudden acceleration in an ongoing storm.
George DeJong was inside the story at the meat counter when it happened.
“It was very sudden,” DeJong said following the destruction. “A boom of sorts — I looked up at the front door — it looked like it was covered by a wall of water.”
Sarasota County Emergency Management officials were en route to take photos and collect other evidence, Davis said. It was reported about 6 p.m.
“Emergency lights went on,” DeJong said. “I did see the roof leaking. I was urging a couple of people to stay calm.”
Witnesses said the Publix workers were great in helping customers in the store when it happened, ushering Venice resident Peter Bracke and others into a restroom.
“The staff knew where to go,” Bracke said.
Publix workers at the site were unable to talk about the situation, referring to their Lakeland public affairs bureau. One Publix leader at the scene said he was “happy that everybody was safe.”
Calls and emails to Publix were unanswered Monday night.
Bracke suspected it was a small tornado, calling it a “twister” or “what we used to call a dust devil.”
“There was no warning in the store,” he said. “People were running away from the front door to take cover.”
Bracke was outside his vehicle, looking for his back bumper — which he said was “peeled off” by the storm.
The localized damage to the event helped lead the initial suspicion of the microburst, Davis said. Nearby in the 900 block of West Desirad Avenue, a roof of a car port blew off a home and landed on another structure, according to Sarasota County Emergency Services Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant said.
Nobody was hurt in that either, she said.
At the time the storm came through, officials were looking at a line of thunderstorms about 100 miles long with localized wind speeds measured at Venice High School at 47 mph and at Sarasota-Manatee International Airport at 57 mph.
“Think of it as a big washing machine of air — all that air that was tens of thousands of feet in the air — the ground is solid so it can’t go into ground — so it goes along the ground,” Davis said. “50-60 miles an hour winds can do some damage.”
A similar situation happened a few days in Cape Coral, Davis said. As Florida enters its summer season, it is that time of year, he said.
A full report on the event would go on the National Weather Service website soon, Davis said.
“We can’t make that final determination until after we talk to the emergency management officials,” he said.
A 1985 tornado destroyed a Publix near U.S. 41 and Center Road. That tornado killed two and hurt 41 others in Venice Gardens.
DeJong said in the parking lot, his car was damaged with the wind pushed another vehicle into his, bending a tire against a curb.
But he’s happy it wasn’t worse.
“There was a moment of uncertainty (inside the store),” he said, noting he stepped away from windows. “Was glass going to come down?” he wondered.
But after the event, a few people were able to finish up checking out their groceries before the store closed to the public while everything was being assessed.
“I’m glad no one was hurt,” DeJong said.