A stalled weather system caused moderate flooding in Key Biscayne, but the most intense deluge hit Broward County, where nearly a foot of rain fell in a matter of hours in Fort Lauderdale.
The rainfall led to closure of the city’s airport, county schools, and the suspension of high-speed commuter rail service for the Broward County region.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency, warning: “This is a life-threatening situation. Seek higher ground now!”
Up to 14 inches had fallen across the area through Wednesday and the National Weather Service said another 2 to 4 inches were possible as a warm front continued to creep northward, bringing a chance of thunderstorms.
In Key Biscayne, areas prone to flooding went underwater, including streets near the K-8 school and the CVS parking lot.
Key Biscayne Fire Rescue Chief Eric Lang did not report any serious incidents or high-water rescues as of Wednesday afternoon.
A rain gauge at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel campus on Virginia Key recorded 3.5 inches of rain since Sunday afternoon, with just three-quarters of an inch falling in the last 24 hours.
“The exact placement of isolated high totals comes down to luck. That peak could have just as easily set up over Miami instead of Fort Lauderdale,” said Rosenstiel meteorologist Brian McNoldy.
Additional rain could fall later today. The National Weather Service said there was a 30% chance of showers, with the greatest risk after 4 p.m. Rain chances are forecast to diminish with a full day of sunshine forecast for Saturday.
The National Weather Service in Miami declared a flash flood emergency around 8 p.m. Wednesday for Fort Lauderdale, along with the areas around Hollywood and Dania Beach. A short time later, forecasters issued a tornado warning for nearby Davie, Plantation and Lauderhill.
Video taken by witnesses showed water coming in the door at an airport terminal and a virtual river rushing down the tarmac between planes.
On Broward Boulevard, a man was seen swimming to the curb on the flooded street at rush hour as cars rolled by.
Drivers recorded themselves rolling through streets where brown, swirling water was up to the wheel wells or nearly to the hood of cars.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.