Wicked weather this week -- heat, wind, storms, floods...and now cold -- puts the region through the wringer

We were sweating buckets on Monday, pumping out flood water on Friday and we'll be pulling on our warm slippers on Sunday.

Blame it on the tides, El Niño, poor street drainage, global warming.

South Florida's weather gods sure have us spinning on a pre-winter roller coaster.

This week, record-breaking heat gave way to torrential rain, which gave way to flooding and tornadoes. There will be a peek of warm sunshine Saturday and Sunday before dropping into the low 40s by the end of the weekend.

Meteorologists scrambled to get a handle on the punishing storms on Thursday and Friday that caught most of the region by surprise -- including the weather forecasters.

A chain of brutal thunderstorms barreled across South Florida late Thursday, pounding the coastal areas -- but leaving some western towns and cities relatively unscathed.

The thrashing followed a rare week-long December heat wave that greeted winter snowbirds.

Some areas of Southeast Broward and North Miami-Dade recorded more than a foot of rain, which caused flooding that closed secondary roads and stranded cars and motorists. Hardest hit: Hollywood, Hallandale Beach and Dania Beach -- where emergency crews worked around the clock to pump out and clear streets of abandoned cars.

As the cleanup continues Saturday, shelters housing flood victims were readying themselves for those seeking refuge from a cold front expected late Sunday.

As a result, Broward County and the Miami-Dade Rescue Mission declared a cold weather emergency for homeless residents from 6:30 p.m. Sunday to 8 a.m. Monday, and from 6:30 p.m. Monday to 8 a.m. Tuesday.

During the height of the rainstorm, the rescue mission took in about 80 homeless men, women and children Thursday and Friday, and planned to accept more as the cold weather approaches this weekend.

Antonio Villasuso, the Mission's Miami Center programs director, said despite the weather turmoil the past week, the agency is prepared.

''I thank God for tropical paradise, but at the same time, it's been the craziest tropical paradise I've seen in my 42 years of existence,'' he said.

James Whitworth, Broward Centers director, said they would take in as many people as they can from the cold.

''We're breaking out the cots and extra blankets; they will have access to clothing, food and showers,'' he said.

'Hurricane Zone'

In Miami-Dade, Aventura Police Capt. William ''Skip'' Washa Jr. said that when he arrived at work about 5 a.m. Friday, it felt like he was in a ''hurricane zone'' with all the cars stranded in floodwaters.

But within hours, the Aventura Mall was once again bustling with shoppers.

''We have the biggest mall in South Florida; people are going to shop,'' he said. ''It's the weekend before Christmas. They're not going to stay home.''

As shoppers descended on the Aventura Mall, firefighters in boats evacuated a flooded mobile home park in Pembroke Park through the day.

The flood-prone County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale and the satellite courthouse in Hollywood were both leaking. So were Hollywood's police department and city hall annex.

There was an unconfirmed report of a small tornado near Northeast 163rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard about 11 a.m. Friday. Witnesses said winds propelled a flower vendor -- along with her large cart -- across a gas station parking lot. The flower cart had been bolted to a concrete sidewalk.

The woman, Maria Elena Sanchez, 42, ''the flower lady,'' was tossed 80 feet and was taken to Aventura Hospital.

Rusty Pfost of the National Weather Service said the brunt of the storm was concentrated in a relatively small area, making it hard to predict.

''It was very strange,'' Pfost said of the storm, which hovered over the coast most of the evening, drenching Southeast Broward and North Miami-Dade east of U.S. 441.

''The amount of rain we had in some areas was just incredible,'' Pfost said. In North Miami Beach, 14.2 inches of rain fell, and over a foot of rain swept through Hollywood, he said.

Cleanup Crews

In hard-hit areas, public works and rescue crews were out in near-hurricane strength at the crack of dawn, combating waves of rushing water. Police cruisers and rescue vehicles also got stuck in several areas.

Hollywood officials opened their emergency operations center Thursday evening and warned all residents to remain indoors.

''All storm-water pumps in the city are operational,'' Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober said. ''All portable pumps are out in more serious areas in order to move storm water.''

The city is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar upgrade to its aging water and sewer system -- but that won't stop floods in heavy rains.

''When you have torrential rain that brings a foot of rain in an hour, there are only so many man-made things you can do,'' Bober said.

In some areas of east Hollywood -- particularly flood-prone Hollywood Lakes -- the water was waist high.

Large plastic wisemen and other nativity scene figurines bobbed in the water on Buchanan Street, while holiday decorations on both sides of Hollywood Boulevard drooped with water.

''It's just pure nasty out there,'' said John Hagadorn, who lives on Fletcher Street.

Therese Costa found herself stranded in downtown Hollywood overnight Thursday, with no way to get home Friday morning. Her car was surrounded by water and the streets leading to her home in Hollywood Lakes were impassable. So she walked to the Publix on Young Circle, bought a pair of flip-flops and a hat, and started to walk the seven-block trek home.

''There's no other way to get home right now.''