As Tampa Bay residents prepare for Hurricane Ian, many Americans unfamiliar with Florida may be surprised that Tampa Bay is rarely hit directly by hurricanes – in fact, the last time it happened was over a century ago.
The Tampa Bay hurricane of 1921 – also known as the Tarpon Springs hurricane – caused upwards of $10 million in damage (that would be roughly $120 million today) and killed eight people, including children. The 1848 Tampa Bay hurricane was the only other recorded hurricane to make landfall in Tampa Bay.
When the hurricane reached Tarpon Springs on October 25, it would have been rated a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Sustained winds of 75 miles per hour were recorded, along with a 10.5-foot storm surge.
Tampa Bay is prone to extreme surges because of its geographical makeup – when winds push water into the bay, the water has nowhere else to go than onto the land. A storm surge of 10–12 feet was recorded during the 1921 storm, along with 8.5 inches of rainfall in Tampa.
When the hurricane made landfall in the early 1920s, Tampa was a fledgling city of about 50,000 residents. Florida had experienced interest from investors seeking to develop property, so officials wanted to assure businessmen that Tampa was a safe investment.
“When the storm hits, boosters are going to say, ‘Oh, you know, this was bad but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it’s not going to happen again,’” Brad Massey from the Tampa Bay History Center told FOX 13 Tampa Bay.
“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 home, so I don’t want people to worry about this!’” the Tampa Bay historian explained.
But a year before Hurricane Ian was on the radar, Massey disputed the idea that the region was never going to be hit by a hurricane again.
“The idea that Tampa Bay isn’t going to get hit by a storm just isn’t true,” he said in 2021.
Hurricane Ian is expected to severely impact Tampa Bay this week, as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents to evacuate as the storm approached. Two tornadoes were recorded in Palm Beach County and Broward County on Tuesday night.
“You need to evacuate now,” the Republican governor said on Tuesday night. “Now is the time to act.”