'Tornado Dead Zone' still an issue in Ocala but improved with radar enhancements

It’s been one year since a tornado tore through Marion County. The EF-1 tornado was on the ground on March 12 for 35 minutes, spanning 26 miles from Dunnellon to Ocala, but not a single alert was sent to notify people of the storm. 

Today, the businesses along State Road 200 near exit 350 on Interstate 75 have been repaired on the outside, but the scars of the storm can still be seen along the tree line. There snapped branches still bare a reminder of the storm. 

"It started raining really hard. Next thing we know we hear this most of obnoxious crumble," said Kim Stokes. 

Stokes was inside Paddock Park Veterinary one year ago right as an EF-1 tornado was barreling in on them. 

"It was an awful day that’s for sure. It’s taking a long time to get back to where we are now," said Practice Manager Vicki Bennett. 

The storm forced Paddock Park to close for 10 days and relocate 57 animals. It took months for them to get a new roof and complete other repairs. Inside, some of their rooms are still gutted to repair water damage caused by the storm.

"I’m sure there are people who still don’t even have their homes repaired. I’ve seen roofs still with tarps from that," said Bennett. 

The National Weather Service never issued an alert for the tornado that day. That is when FOX 35 News uncovered the "Tornado Dead Zone" in North Central Florida, where radar struggled to detect smaller, lower-to-the-ground EF0 to EF1 tornados. At the same time, the Jacksonville radar tower that normally covered the area was down for maintenance. Today, it’s back online to help with coverage, but Marion County officials would still like to see more. 

"Population-wise and what we have now, I do think we need to be consistently looking at coverages and where the needs are," said Marion County Emergency Management Director Preston Bowlin. 

Marion County legislatures have pushed for more radar coverage over the last year, but things remain status quo. Instead, officials and residents still rely on additional forms of coverage like weather spotters and local meteorologists to help fill in the gaps. 

"I have the weather app – your weather app," said Stokes. 

Stokes received our FOX 35 Weather app notification of a tornado warning in northern Marion County on Monday morning. Officials also suggest signing up for alerts through AlertMarion.com to keep you informed. 

No one was hurt during the March 2022 tornado.