A significant F1 tornado, with wind speeds estimated at 100 to 110 mph, produced an estimated $526,000 in damage as it moved through the downtown area of Miami around 1800 UTC (2:00 P.M. EDT) on May 12, 1997. The tornado developed just southwest of the city and first touched down in the Silver Bluff Estates area at approximately 1753 UTC (1:53 P.M.). The tornado moved east-northeast at 20 to 25 mph and cut a 30 to 150-yard wide path, 8 miles in length, and was on the ground for about 15 minutes. After the initial touchdown in Silver Bluff Estates area, the tornado crossed interstate I-95 and then moved through downtown Miami before entering Biscayne Bay near Bicentennial Park and the MacArthur Causeway.
The tornado then continued northeast and crossed both the MacArthur and Venetian Causeways and moved over Biscayne Island. The visible funnel lifted from the water as it crossed Biscayne Bay, but touched down again briefly on Miami Beach near Collins Avenue and Arthur Godfrey Road. Since the tornado moved through the downtown area of a major metropolitan city, thousands of people witnessed the storm. Several photographs and videotapes of the tornado were taken by amateur photographers. The tornado was even captured by the "tower cam" of a local television station (WPLG-ABC).
The tornado produced roof damage to an apartment complex and some houses in the Little Havana area. In the downtown area, windows were blown out of several buildings including nearly every south facing window on the first three floors of The Citadel Building on NW Fourth Street. Several cars were damaged by flying debris in the WTVJ-NBC parking lot. Other cars were overturned or blown several yards when the tornado moved through the parking lot of a Bell South office building. A Metro Mover car on Miami's public transportation elevated rail system was derailed as the tornado neared the Government Center in downtown Miami. About a dozen minor injuries were attributed to the tornado with the majority of them being cuts caused by flying glass and debris.
The downtown Miami tornado was an unusual event for South Florida because it was synoptically driven and the conditions for supercell thunderstorm development were well forecast by the medium range computer models, at least 24 hours in advance. Most South Florida tornadoes are F0 tornadoes which produce little damage and generally last only a couple of minutes. Usually, they are not as severe or destructive as those in the Midwest.