Decades after 1921 hurricane, still counting until next big one

By Mike Clay, Chief Meteorologist
Last Updated: Thursday, October 23, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT

The 1921 Hurricane Season was a rather uneventful one.  Then came a typical late season threat forming in the Western Caribbean.  The “Tarpon Springs Hurricane” would become a category 4 when entering the Gulf of Mexico.  Remember, the residents of the Tampa Bay area in 1921 had no idea a major hurricane was racing toward them from the warm Gulf waters.  During the day on October 23, 1921 – the hurricane quickly hit and then raced across the state.

Based on the track, we can assume a rather strong trough to the west “turned” the hurricane toward the east-northeast as it entered the Gulf.  This hurricane made landfall at about the worst location for Tampa Bay.  Landfall was over Tarpon Springs which pushed a mighty storm surge directly into the Bay.  Only the stronger 1848 hurricane is known to have produced a higher surge in our area.  The water rose to 10.5 feet in Downtown Tampa and 8 feet in Downtown St. Petersburg.

We don’t know how high the winds actually were, the highest measured was 75 mph but the equipment and the ability to keep it functioning would be rather unsophisticated compared to today’s Doppler radars and many home anemometers.  We do know the pressure of 968 mb was measured in Tarpon Springs which would probably equal a strong category 2, maybe a category 3 hurricane at landfall.  

It is important to learn lessons from history, we do know that all of the barrier islands went underwater with this (and the 1848 hurricane) storm.  A similar storm would put thousands in real danger from storm surge today.

So here we go again, another anniversary of the “storm of record” for our area and again Tampa Bay gets through the most dangerous part of hurricane season without a hit.  We are still waiting, still counting until the next big one.