NAPLES, Fla. — Hurricane Irma's leading edge whipped palm trees and kicked up the surf as it spun toward Florida with 125 mph winds Saturday on a projected new track that could subject Tampa — not Miami — to the storm's worst fury.
Irma starting to spin up funnel clouds and at least one tornado, leading to warnings for parts of South Florida.
The National Weather Service in Miami posted on Twitter Saturday evening that a tornado had touched the ground in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Oakland Park. Tornado warnings were issued for Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Sunrise in Broward County, as well as parts of nearby Palm Beach and Hendry counties.
Saturday night, 76,000 customers already were without power, Gov. Rick Scott said.
Tampa has not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly a century.
The westward swing away from Miami in the overnight forecast caught many people off guard along Florida's Gulf coast and triggered an abrupt shift in storm preparations. A major round of evacuations was ordered in the Tampa area, and shelters there soon began filling up.
Still, Miami was not out of danger. Because the storm is 350 to 400 miles wide, the metro area could still get life-threatening hurricane winds and dangerous storm surge of 4 to 6 feet, forecasters warned.
The window was closing fast for anyone wanting to escape before the arrival of the fearsome storm Sunday morning. Irma — at one time the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic — left more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean.
"This is your last chance to make a good decision," Scott warned residents in Florida's evacuation zones, which encompassed a staggering 6.4 million people, or more than 1 in 4 people in the state.
For days, the forecast had made it look as if the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people on Florida's Atlantic coast could get hit head-on by the long-dreaded Big One.
But that soon changed. Meteorologists predicted Irma's center would blow ashore Sunday morning in the perilously low-lying Florida Keys, then hug the state's west coast, plowing into the Tampa Bay area by Monday morning.