A 100-year hurricane?

courtesy NOAA and the National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Ian is now poised to cross Cuba likely becoming a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and making landfall in Florida later this week. Here’s the current National Hurricane Center forecast:

courtesy the National Hurricane Center

The “M” means major hurricane with winds greater than 110 mph and, in the case of Ian, the forecast calls for winds as high as 140 mph. Storm surge will reach 8′ in spots with rain amounts of a foot or more. Widespread power outages and property damage are certain and, unfortunately, lives will be at risk. How much of all this depends on the track and that is still up for grabs.

While models will continue to change, the American and European are on the same page regarding Florida but they show two very different locations. The American (GFS) has a bullseye on Tampa while the European brushes Tampa and then tracks farther north into areas that are largely wildlife preserves:

courtesy tropicaltidbits.com
courtesy weathermodels.com

Both of these scenarios are enough to have evacuations already being ordered in the Tampa area. What I found interesting is that Tampa hasn’t actually been hit by a major storm in more than a hundred years! There was an 85 mph Category 1 hurricane back in 1946, but the biggie was quite a while back: The Tampa Bay Hurricane of 1921.

That storm, like Ian is forecast to do, ramped up to 140 mph winds in the Gulf but did weaken to 115 mph winds before it barreled into Tarpon Springs, Florida, about 15 miles north of Clearwater. The storm had no name (we didn’t start naming them until the 1950s) and was still a Category 3 at landfall. In Tampa, a 10-12′ storm surge caused most of the damage, as opposed to wind, taking out hundreds of homes, buildings, cars, railroad cars, boats, fishing piers and casinos. The storm also took the lives of eight people.

Before the 1921 hurricane, Tampa Bay was hit in the 1840s, so dealing with hurricanes is rare for them. Interestingly, while many Floridians think they have experienced major hurricanes, most have not. In fact, in the last 50 years, only four hurricanes packing 140 mph winds have affected Florida: Andrew, Charley, Irma and Michael.

courtesy Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli and the Max Defender 8 weather team in Tampa

Tampa felt some minor impacts from Charley and Irma. The bottom line is that while many Floridians think they have gone through “the big one,” they actually haven’t. That can lead to the feeling of being prepared when you actually are not and don’t really know what to expect. Tampa meteorologist Jeff Berardelli has more on that predicament right here.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep you updated on Hurricane Ian. What is protecting us from all this is a cold front that moves through the area today dropping our overnight lows to the 50s later this week. Enjoy the nice weather and send positive vibes to the people of Cuba and Florida!


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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.