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Hurricane season in Tampa: what to expect, how to prepare

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

BY SARA LATTMAN

As a Tampa native, I’ve lived through one hurricane season after another. While my experience reduces my stress about the season, it has unfortunately caused me to take approaching Hurricane Irma less seriously than I should. In light of the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the potential of Irma in Florida, it is important to know how to prepare, what to expect and how to evacuate if a major storm makes landfall over Tampa.

Preparation is vital during hurricane season, especially if you’re living off campus and don’t have direct access to the school’s resources during a storm. Extra cases of water, batteries, battery powered electronics and food with long shelf lives are all must-haves during a power outage, especially if flooding prevents you from traveling. Hurricanes are predictable, but they can also change direction quickly. Make sure you know where local evacuation centers are, such as Lockhart Elementary School, 3719 N 17th St. and Middleton High School, 4801 N 22nd St. Always have a go-bag ready, even if you don’t seem to be in the direct path of the storm.

In 2004, Hurricane Charley was expected to hit Tampa hard, and a lot of people evacuated — including my family. We traveled to the Orlando area, only to be hit anyway because of Charley’s unexpected path change. This only testifies to the need to be ready, even if you think you’ve dodged the storm. If you’ve never experienced a hurricane before, here are some things to expect if Tampa is affected.

The wind is extremely loud, almost as if a jet plane flew right outside your window. If you choose not to evacuate before the storm, don’t count on going anywhere right before impact. Traffic is terrible and the last place you want to be stuck is a highway. Since these storms are tracked and analyzed, you will know if you need to evacuate plenty of time beforehand. Where it is safe to evacuate to depends on the direction of the hurricane, so it is imperative that you keep up with the news in the days and hours before landfall. UT also has set evacuation plans that can be found at their website page on “Evacuation Information.”

William H. Gray, the founder of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University told Tampa Bay Online in 2013 that due to Tampa’s unique location, a cyclone formed in the Atlantic would need to go through the Caribbean Sea and make a sharp turn north in order to make a direct hit on the city. Gray points out that this is a very unusual track for a hurricane to take.

While our city’s location keeps citizens relaxed, it is crucial to take the threat of these storms seriously, as even a hurricane off the coast could cause a storm surge capable of flooding the entire bay area. It is important to keep this in mind as Irma pushes closer to the United States, promising heavy rains and strong winds for southern and central Florida.

Helpful Terms

Hurricane Watch – Conditions may occur within 48 hours
Hurricane Warning – Conditions may occur within 36 hours
Major Hurricane – Category 3 storm or higher
Category 1 – 74 to 95 mph winds
Category 2 – 96 to 110 mph winds
Category 3 – 111 to 129 mph wind
Category 4 – 130 to 156 mph wind
Category 5 – 157+ mph winds

Sara Lattman can be reached at sara.lattman@spartans.ut.edu.

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