South Walton Fire District lifeguards protect swimmers from waterspout turned tornado

July 2, 2013

Waterspout hits land on Seagrove beach. Courtesy photo
Waterspout hits land on Seagrove beach. Courtesy photo

At approximately 12:40 p.m. July 1, 2013, a waterspout was reported to have made landfall in Seagrove near the Santa Clara Beach Access. South Walton Fire District Lifeguards Brad Stewart and Joel Chapman were on duty at SWFD Lifeguard Tower 2 when rain began to move on shore. As the guards were removing their equipment from the beach a water spout was spotted approximately 700 feet from shore.

As the water spout began to rapidly make its way towards the shore, SWFD Lifeguard Chapman began directing patrons in his response area to seek shelter at the closest structure. At this time, SWFD Lifeguard Stewart witnessed a family who was attempting to move one of their own family members with a (physical disability) to a safe shelter. As he reached the group with beach wheel chair in hand, Stewart realized it was too late to make it to a safe shelter. Stewart ordered them all to lay face down in the sand as he lay across them. The waterspout, now turned tornado, was now on shore and passing directly over this group. A tent awning collapsed and skirted across Stewart’s back however he did not sustain any injuries.

Despite the fact that the tornado ripped a 6 foot tall door off of the SWFD Lifeguard storage shed and other tents, umbrellas and other debris were blown across the beach , no injuries or other significant damage were reported. As a precaution, SWFD rescue units evaluated all persons involved and no one was transported for further medical evaluation.

As always SWFD urges all its residents, guests, visitors and tourists alike to always swim in guarded beaches. Pay close attention and always adhere to the beach flag warning system.  Know that summer weather in Florida can change instantly, violently and without warning and most importantly, use sound judgment and know your swimming limitations.

If you have any questions, please contact Sammy Sanchez, Fire Marshal/PIO at or 850-267-1298