ST. PETERSBURG, FL — As major Hurricane Irma followed projected path anticipated to have catastrophic impacts on the Tampa Bay area in the next few days, a grave warning from hurricane experts originally shared in 2015 served as a reminder of the region’s unique vulnerabilities.

What follows are excerpts of a Patch story written in June 2015 that chronicles hurricane experts’ fears that a major storm could leave the coastal areas of Tampa Bay reeling after impact:

While it’s been nearly 100 years since the last major hurricane came onshore directly in the Tampa Bay area, experts warn that complacency may prove costly in lives and property. (For more hurricane news or local news from Florida, click here to sign up for real-time news alerts and newsletters from St. Pete Patch, and click here to find your local Florida Patch. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app.)

“We’ve been kind of lucky,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying. “In the Tampa region, an Andrew-sized storm could cause more than $200 billion in damage, according to a local government study in 2010.”

Meteorologists say areas like Tampa, Daytona Beach and Houston should get hit with major storms every 20 to 40 years or so, the Daily Mail noted. Even so, the last major storm to strike Tampa hit way back in 1921. While Hurricane Frances did make herself known when she passed through in 2004, the storm was diminished in strength by the time it hit the Bay, Sperling’s Best Places noted. Even so, that website still lists the Tampa Bay area as number four on its list of worst places for hurricanes.

While Tampa’s bullet dodging has largely kept the region safe from major storms in the memories of most people alive today, it’s that foggy memory that has some experts concerned.

“It’s just the law of statistics,” Emanuel was quoted by U.S. News & World Report as saying. “Luck will run out. It’s a question of when.”

Experts are particularly worried about the potential casualties a major storm in the Bay area would create.

“My worry is that we’ll have hundreds or even thousands dead in the next major hurricane that hits the Tampa Bay area,” U.S. News quoted Christopher Landsea of the National Hurricane Center in Miami is saying.

Hurricane Irma approached Cuba Saturday morning as a powerful Category 5 storm. By 2 p.m. Sept. 9, the National Hurricane Center said Irma’s clash with the island nation had left the storm weakened. Even so, Irma very much remained a major hurricane, classified as a Category 3 storm. Forecasters expect Irma to retain major hurricane status when she crashes into Florida on Sunday and continues on a projected path that is expected to have potentially catastrophic impacts on Florida’s west coast and the Tampa Bay area.

Irma, the behemoth that tore through the Caribbean, leaving at least 20 people dead in its wake, was packing maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. Irma was located about 145 southeast of Key West, moving west at 9 mph.

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Back in July 2017, The Washington Post warned that “Tampa Bay’s Storm Is Coming.” Building upon the research shared in 2015, the paper’s piece pointed out that the region had barely stated “to assess the rate of sea-level rise and address its effects. Its slow response to a major threat is a case study in how American cities reluctantly prepare for the worst, even though signs of impacts from climate change abound all around.”

The Post pointed out that storm surge could be an especially big problem, such as in densely population areas like Pinellas County.

“If a hurricane 4 or 5 hit us,” St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Darden Rice told the paper, “there’s no doubt about it. The plan is you’d better get out of Dodge.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn also estimated the area outside City Hall would find itself under about 15 feet of water if a Category 3 hurricane hit downtown.

Has Tampa Bay’s time come? Whether the Post’s assessment will prove to be true is a story for time, and Irma, to tell. Mandatory evacuations were up in most coastal areas within the Tampa Bay region Saturday, Sept. 9 as storm surge and hurricane warnings went into place.

Image via the City of St. Petersburg’s Facebook page

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