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As Tampa Bay residents prepare for Hurricane Ian, many Americans unfamiliar with Florida may be surprised that Tampa Bay is rarely directly affected by hurricanes; in fact, the last time it happened was over a century ago.
The 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane, also known as the Tarpon Springs Hurricane, caused over $10 million in damage (which would be roughly $120 million today) and killed eight people, including children. The Tampa Bay Hurricane of 1848 was the only other recorded hurricane to make landfall in Tampa Bay.
When the hurricane made landfall in Tarpon Springs on October 25, it would have been classified as a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Sustained winds of 75 mph were reported, along with a storm surge of 10.5 feet.
Tampa Bay is prone to extreme surges because of its geographic makeup: When winds push water into the bay, the water has nowhere to go but on land. A storm surge of 10 to 12 feet was recorded during the 1921 storm, along with 8.5 inches of rain in Tampa.
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When the hurricane made landfall in the early 1920s, Tampa was a fledgling city of about 50,000. Florida had experienced interest from investors looking to develop properties, so officials wanted to reassure entrepreneurs that Tampa was a safe investment.
“When the storm comes, the boosters are going to say, ‘Oh, you know, that was bad, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it’s not going to happen again,'” Brad Massey of the Tampa Bay History Center told the FOX 13 Tampa Bay.
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“There’s actually a local weatherman [at the time] who says he’s confident the Tampa Bay area will never be hit by another storm like this. And he tells the press, ‘I’m already rebuilding my house, so I don’t want people to worry about that!'” explained the Tampa Bay historian.
But a year before Hurricane Ian was on the radar, Massey disputed the idea that the region would never be hit by another hurricane again.
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“The idea that Tampa Bay won’t get hit by a storm is simply not true,” he said in 2021.
Hurricane Ian is expected to hit Tampa Bay hard this week as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents to evacuate as the storm approaches. Two tornadoes were reported Tuesday night in Palm Beach County and Broward County.
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“You have to evacuate now,” the Republican governor said Tuesday night. “Now is the time to act.”