The Tarpon Springs Storm of 1921: The last hurricane to hit Tampa Bay before Ian
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As Tampa Bay residents brace 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, that was over a century ago.
The Tampa Bay hurricane of 1921 – also known as the Tarpon Springs hurricane – caused more than $10 million in damage (which would be around $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 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 storm surge of 10.5 feet.
Tampa Bay is prone to extreme surges due to its geographic composition – 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 people. Florida had attracted interest from investors seeking to develop properties, so officials wanted to assure businesspeople that Tampa was a safe investment.
« When the storm hits, the boosters are going to say, ‘Oh, you know, that was bad but it’s a once in a lifetime thing, it won’t happen again,' » Brad Massey of the Tampa Bay History Center says FOX 13 Tampa Bay.
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“There is actually a local meteorologist [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!' » the Tampa Bay historian explained.
But a year before Hurricane Ian was on the radar, Massey challenged the idea that the region would never be hit by a hurricane again.
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« The idea that Tampa Bay won’t be hit by a storm just isn’t true, » he said in 2021.
Hurricane Ian is expected to have a severe impact on Tampa Bay this week as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents to evacuate as the storm approaches. Two tornadoes were recorded in Palm Beach County and Broward County on Tuesday evening.
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« You must evacuate now, » the Republican governor said Tuesday night. « Now is the time to act. »