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100 years later: Remembering the last time a hurricane struck the Tampa Bay region

Area seems ripe for hurricane strikes, but it’s been a century since one made landfall

Stock image. Photo by Tim Boyles
Stock image. Photo by Tim Boyles (Getty Images)

Given it’s location next to the Gulf of Mexico, one would think that the Tampa Bay region would have an extensive history with hurricanes.

On the contrary, that is not the case.

This October will mark 100 years since the last time a hurricane made landfall in the Tampa Bay area.

Known as the Tampa Bay hurricane or the Tarpon Springs Hurricane, in 1921, the region was battered by the Category 3 catastrophe.

A storm surge estimated at nearly 11 feet in downtown Tampa and 8 feet in downtown St. Petersburg caused unfathomable damage.

Small islands in the area went underwater, citrus farms were destroyed, and boats, structures and buildings were smashed to pieces.

Six people died as a result of the hurricane.

Of course, back then, there wasn’t the technology that there is today, so people weren’t as well warned or prepared, which made the disaster worse.

In what some might think is a surprise, there hasn’t been another hurricane to strike the region since, although there was some concern last week that when Elsa morphed back into a Category 1 hurricane from a tropical storm, it would clip the Tampa Bay region.

But it didn’t -- keeping another hurricane from making landfall there.

So, why has this been the case?

One reason is that it’s rare for a hurricane track to come from the southwest of the state, according to AccuWeather. A majority of the storms are generated in waters to the east of Florida.

Another reason is that if a hurricane comes from the southwest, it is weakened by the mountains of Cuba.

There’s also another theory in that large burial mounds from the Tocobaga civilization are still present in the area, which provide supernatural protection from hurricanes, according to the Washington Post.

However, despite all those theories, make no mistake: Luck has played a role, too.

“That has been our story for a hundred years now,” Rui Farias, executive director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History, told AccuWeather. ““That the hurricanes are heading right for us, and just veer off course.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the most common time for a hurricane to hit the area is late in the season in October, such as what happened 100 years ago.

That’s when systems most commonly form in the western part of the Caribbean and move toward Florida’s west coast.

Another hurricane will likely hit the Tampa Bay area at some point, according to weather.gov.

Hopefully that won’t be the case, but if disaster does strike, the area should at least have the technology to better brace for it than the people living in the area in 1921 did.


About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.