Home » Headlines » Hurricane Irma heading to Tampa

Hurricane Irma heading to Tampa

11hurricane copy

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) – Hurricane Irma’s leading edges whipped palm trees and kicked up the surf as it spun toward Florida with 125 mph winds Saturday on a projected new track that could subject Tampa – not Miami – to the storm’s worst fury.
Tampa has not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in nearly a century.

The westward swing away from Miami in the overnight forecast caught many people off guard along Florida’s Gulf coast and triggered an abrupt shift in storm preparations. A major round of evacuations was ordered in the Tampa area, and shelters there soon began filling up.

Still, Miami was not out of danger. Because the storm is 350 to 400 miles wide, the metro area could still get life-threatening hurricane winds and dangerous storm surge of 4 to 6 feet, forecasters warned.

The window was closing fast for anyone wanting to escape before the arrival of the fearsome storm Sunday morning. Irma – at one time the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic – left more than 20 people dead across the Caribbean.

“This is your last chance to make a good decision,’’ Gov. Rick Scott warned residents in Florida’s evacuation zones, which encompassed a staggering 6.4 million people, or more than 1 in 4 people in the state.

For days, the forecast had made it look as if the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people on Florida’s Atlantic coast could get hit head-on by the long-dreaded Big One.

But that soon changed. Meteorologists predicted Irma’s center would blow ashore Sunday morning in the perilously low-lying Florida Keys, then hug the state’s west coast, plowing into the Tampa Bay area by Monday morning.

Just as predicted, Irma on Saturday evening began making a wide right turn around the southern edge of Florida that could take it straight up the state’s west coast.

Tampa has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Now the area has around 3 million people.

The new course threatens everything from Tampa Bay’s bustling twin cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to Naples’ mansion- and yacht-lined canals, Sun City Center’s retirement homes, and Sanibel Island’s shell-filled beaches.

By late morning Saturday, however, few businesses in St. Petersburg and its barrier islands had put plywood or hurricane shutters on their windows, and some locals grumbled about the change in the forecast.

“For five days, we were told it was going to be on the east coast, and then 24 hours before it hits, we’re now told it’s coming up the west coast,’’ said Jeff Beerbohm, a 52-year-old entrepreneur in St. Petersburg.

comments