Flashback: Tampa Bay’s devastating storm of 1921

Hurricane Ian

(NewsNation) — For days, some residents of Tampa Bay Florida were stocking up and boarding up, and even evacuating as Hurricane Ian appeared to have the area in its crosshairs.

But with landfall coming just west of Fort Myers, veteran storm watchers wonder if Ian’s trajectory will perpetuate an idea that’s keenly believed by some locals — that hurricanes don’t come ashore in Tampa Bay.

To obliterate that myth, NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” took a look back 101 years ago to 1921, when an unnamed storm killed eight people, changing the face of Tampa Bay forever.

While Tampa Bay today is home to some three million people, just a few hundred thousand called the area home when th 1921 storm pummeled the area.

The late season, Oct. 25 hurricane battered the maritime industry, destroying docks and pushing boats far inland. The storm surge hit 11 feet, inundating areas of downtown Tampa and Tarpon Springs.

”That’s very significant. And if you could imagine something like that occurring today, that would be catastrophic.” Austen Flannery, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Friday.

The storm actually reshaped the coast, cutting three separate passes and slicing Hog Island in two

Logs stored in Tampa Bay for a cigar company to make its boxes broke their chains and did some tremendous damage.

“Interesting part of that is that some of these logs broke open as they bashed into homes. Some of them had been hollowed out and … inside were demijohns of rum, where they had been … sneaking them into the country during prohibition,” Jay Barnes, a hurricane book author, told “Rush Hour” on Friday.

The fatalities from storm surge and heavy winds came with little warning.

Today’s, there are salinity gliders to measure storm intensification, hurricane hunters to gather data and even sail drones with cameras — an unimaginable luxury for folks in 1921 who only had barometers and word of mouth.

”There was no National Hurricane Center. The Weather Bureau itself really struggled based on what they could find from ship reports and in some cases, telegraphed information from other locations — very much a guessing game,” Barnes said.

It’s a guessing game that’s much easier to play with today’s technology. Yet it’s the lessons of the past to remind us Mother Nature’s punch can land anywhere.

”People that live in the Tampa Area … will say, ‘Oh, we just don’t get hurricanes here. You know, there’s something about this area that makes us different.’ And the reality is that that’s not the case,”

Emergency leaders also must contend with a local legend that blessings from Native Americans who once called the region home have protected it from invaders and major storms for centuries.

The Tocobagan Tribe in what is now Pinellas County builty numerous mounds that were meant to serve as guardians.

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