Paths Of Fury

It’s difficult to look at the paths hurricanes ripped across Florida the past 150 years and not realize the state is a magnet for storms.

But people do – and yawn.

Fighting complacency in a place like the Tampa Bay area is a major battle for emergency officials.

People forget, officials say. Or newcomers never huddled in a dark house as rain slammed into rattling windows and wind hammered the walls.

Or folks brushed by the edge of a notable hurricane believe they rode out “the big one.”

This is known as “disaster amnesia.”

Along this part of the Gulf of Mexico coast, where the last major storm hit in 1921, it can be common.

While hurricanes have always been a part of Florida, the most powerful one to hit the Tampa Bay area doesn’t even appear on the map of storm tracks since 1851.

That storm hit in 1848.

Weather patterns, geography and dumb luck play a role in why the region has sidestepped hurricanes, at least since the mid-1800s.

At the height of the June through November season, most storms form off Africa and head west, pushed by persistent upper-level winds from the east.

Most storms that barrel into southern Florida come from the tropical Atlantic Ocean.

A storm moving across the peninsula from the east coast can hit here, but it would not be as devastating as a direct hit from the Gulf.

Our storms mostly spring from the Caribbean Sea, the Bay of Campeche and the Gulf, where there are few places to go without hitting someone.

Lately, upper-level winds in the Gulf have tended to push those storms toward Florida.

Widespread complacency is puzzling considering the Tampa Bay area may face a greater threat during the hurricane season than other places.

The bathtub that is the Gulf warms more quickly and takes longer to cool than the Atlantic, so storms can develop anytime.

People along the east coast do most of their fretting in August and September.

This summer you may hear a lot about a growing El Nino, a warming of water in the Pacific Ocean, and how this can subdue a hurricane season.

However, it is likely to be weak and have little influence on the number of storms.

But the number of storms doesn’t matter.

In 1900, a season with only seven storms, the deadliest hurricane in our history crushed Galveston, Texas, killing more than 8,000 people.

In 1935, a season of only six storms, the most powerful to hit the United States since records were kept ravaged the Florida Keys.

And in 1992, another six-storm year, Hurricane Andrew, the country’s most costly storm, hit southern Florida.

Still feel like yawning?

Steve Jerve is a meteorologist for WFLA, News Channel 8, and can be reached at [email protected] Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at<

Steve Jerve is a meteorologist for WFLA, News Channel 8, and can be reached at [email protected] Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 544-5214.

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