South Florida Airport Ravaged by Hurricane Ian. An Accounting of the Damage

At least 30 aircraft at KHWO damaged or overturned by a tornado spawned by the storm.

Hurricane Ian’s devastating impact on Florida and aviation has become apparent. The storm’s wrath was felt well outside its eyewall, as evidenced by the rash of severe weather—including at least one tornado—that ravaged part of Southeast Florida Tuesday night.

While the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area has been spared the very worst of Ian, the sprawling sub-tropical metropolis has nevertheless felt its strength in the form of intense rain bands spreading out for nearly 200 miles from the hurricane’s center.

Aviation Experiences Ian’s Sting

Southeast Florida is a general aviation hub for the U.S. and the Caribbean. This vital industry was heavily impacted Tuesday night when strong thunderstorm cells spawned tornadoes in the Miami-Dade and Broward County area. Aside from residential impacts, Broward County’s GA community was particularly hard hit, with a tornado touching down at North Perry Airport (KHWO).

North Perry is a high-traffic GA airfield usually buzzing with flight training activity and banner towing operations. KHWO has four FBOs, 148 T-hangars, and more than 40 aviation businesses. It’s also home to Broward College’s aviation facility. 

Damage Is Spotty But Substantial

Reports have come in of at least 30 airplanes damaged, mainly on the north side of the field, although the south side was not spared. Aerial Banners Inc. offers aerial advertising nationwide and has one of its bases at North Perry. At least one of its Piper Pawnee banner-towing airplanes was damaged during the tornado’s touchdown. ABC News affiliate’s WPLG’s video report showed at least one of Wayman Aviation Cessna 172s damaged with its wing partially detached. In addition to aircraft, the report indicated that several hangars were also damaged.

Broward County Mayor Michael Udine visited the airport, which will be closed until further notice, as officials assess the damage.

Sarasota’s Airport Feels The Brunt of The Storm

Tuesday night’s damage at North Perry Airport occurred well before the hurricane made landfall the following afternoon. These rainband-produced tornadoes were just a hint of what other parts of the state were about to experience.

On Wednesday at 3:05 pm, Hurricane Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa, on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast. It packed a wallop producing 150 miles per hour winds and a storm surge over 7 feet high in nearby communities before coming ashore. As a result, initial assessments indicated substantial damage to the infrastructure, and airports were again affected.

Tampa Bay 10 reported damage at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, including a section of the roof’s membrane and many of the terminal’s ceiling tiles falling.

Caption: Damage to the Sarasota-Bradenton International airport includes this large section of flexible roof membrane. [Courtesy: Fox 13] 

Fox 13 spoke with Rick Piccolo, the airport’s president and CEO, about the pre-storm preparations and water damage resulting from the roof damage. According to Piccolo, the section of the detached roof membrane measures about 100 ft. X 100 ft and damage to the terminal was contained to a specific area near the Sun Country Airlines check-in counters. He and other operational team members spent the night at the airport covering computers and other vital equipment with plastic sheeting before the eyewall arrived. Clean-up efforts are already underway.

Caption: A pile of ceiling tiles near the Sun Country check-in counter awaits clean-up by airport officials.  [Courtesy: WTSP] 

Back at North Perry Airport, a post-storm assessment revealed the level of collateral damage. WPLG Local 10 and WSVN 7 News spoke to local pilots who came to see the aftermath, which appeared to be random in some areas of the airfield. Aviation Safety Network posted a list of aircraft damaged at the airport.

Flying Into Ian 

Even experienced weather observers were caught off guard with the intensity of the storm as evidenced by some video and supplied by NOAA Hurricane Hunter crews flying into IAN’s fury. 

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