TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Bay was bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Ian, as experts predicted, before the storm shifted and barreled through Lee County, leaving a path of destruction.
Although there were tragically two deaths in the Sarasota area, and reports of damage and power outages elsewhere, the region was, for the most part, spared.
“I’m convinced that geographically we’re incapable of being hit with a storm. It just never seems to happen,” St. Petersburg resident Leonard McCue told the Washington Post in 2017 following Hurricane Irma.
Not since the Tarpon Springs hurricane struck the region in 1921 has Tampa Bay been directly hit by a major storm.
Eight people were killed when the storm hit the seaside town with 120 mph winds. Most of the dead drowned in the storm surge. The storm caused roughly $5 million in damage at the time.
The only other hurricane known to have made a direct hit on Tampa Bay was the “Great Gale of 1848,” which made landfall in Clearwater, Florida in late September—174 years ago.
“I’m a skeptic. I’ve lived here 34 years, and I’ve yet to see a hurricane hit us. I think we’re in the perfect spot,” Bonita Bay resident Chris Williams told the Post.
Local legend has it that mounds built by the Tocobaga tribe hundreds of years ago, protected the area from major storms for centuries.
The tribe lived in small villages between what is now Safety Harbor and the Gandy area, from 900 to the 1500s, but died out from disease and violence from Spanish settlers in the 17th century, according to Pinellas County’s website.
In those villages, the tribe would build mounds made of layers of shells and sand. The mounds were used as temples, homes and burial grounds. The oldest remaining one is located near Old Tampa Bay.
Some locals claim the tribe blessed the mounds for protection from hurricanes and other hazards, but we have yet to confirm the validity of their story.
The likelihood of storms making a direct hit on the Gulf Coast increases in September and even more in October, during the second half of the hurricane season, when cooler air moves south, and jet-stream winds, which blow around the Earth from east to west, take storm systems with them.
“This westerly flow steers systems from west to east. So storms that emerge out of the Caribbean into the Gulf will often feel this westerly flow and be turned eastward,” Storm Team 8’s Chief Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli explained.
According to Berardelli, hurricanes would have to make the perfect turn to the east in order to make landfall in Tampa Bay, therefore making a direct hit on the region would be somewhat difficult.