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Recalling the Great Tampa Bay Hurricane Informs Preparations Today

Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center aren’t going as far as predicting a major storm will hit the county this year, but they do want residents to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

The Great Tampa Bay Hurricane crashed into St. Pete Beach and changed Pinellas County geography 90 years ago.

The storm brought with it a 12-foot storm surge and actually separated St. Pete Beach from Treasure Island, creating the Blind Pass channel in October 1921.

Officials from the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center aren’t going as far as predicting another major storm like that will hit this county this year, but they do want residents to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

“People think we’re never going to get hit by another hurricane again. So the concern we’ve got is that people aren’t going to take the warnings seriously,” said Tom Iovino, spokesman for the center, Wednesday. 

“Pinellas County isn’t moving from where it’s located. We need to be aware that… One time our luck is going to go bad. And when that happens there’s going to be a lot of people that are going to be caught off guard."

The National Weather Service does predict 12 to 18 named storms this season with up to six of them reaching possible category three or more. A category three hurricane has winds that reach 111 mph or more. 

Hurricane season officially runs through Nov. 30.

The Emergency Operations Center is using social networking sites, electronic town hall meetings, and is painting storm surge levels on traffic light posts to raise awareness of the dangers of flood waters hurricanes bring, in an effort to help residents prepare for possible storms.

Residents can also get a copy of the annual hurricane guide, which is available at most government facilities. And check evacuation zones. The maps changed in 2010.

“People really need to understand that the reason why we have evacuations and evacuation zones is because of storm surge vulnerability,” said Sally Bishop, the center's director.

It is not just the wind to worry about when a hurricane comes. The rushing waters from the storm surge can be the most deadly part of the weather pattern.

“A swimming pool-sized area of seawater weighs approximately 294,000 pounds. There’s no home built to withstand that kind of pressure," Bishop said. "That’s why storm surge kills, because it is so destructive, and because you can’t outrun it.”

Only about half the county evacuated when Hurricane Charley tore through the state in 2004. The category 4 storm ripped through Port Charlotte before heading north to Orlando and then Daytona.

Both Bishop and Iovino stressed the importance of being prepared, regardless of whether a major hurricane strikes this year, next year or not at all.

“I hope people are paying attention to what happened in Tuscaloosa, to what happened in Joplin (Missouri), and to what happened in Japan,” Iovino said. “We know that our disaster will give us warning. We need people to take that time wisely and not be surprised like the people in Joplin were.”

For more:

Emergency Operations Center  

Find your evacuation zone

Pinellas County evacuation map

Pinellas County shelter options

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