Tampa Bay dodges direct hit from Hurricane Irma while region's streak continues

Arnold Nichols
September 14, 2017

Up and down the wide, sandy beaches of Pinellas County are traditional "old Florida" waterfront hotels such as the Don Cesar, a coral pink 1920s hotel on St. Pete Beach, which was closed by the storm.

The National Hurricane Center warned people of the dangers of the storm, noting wind, storm surges and flash flooding as possibilities. This is the longest any cyclone has maintained that intensity on record, according to Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University.

The combination of shear and instability that a hurricane offers still produces small supercell storms that are more likely to spawn tornadoes than ordinary thunderstorm cells, NOAA said. Irma made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key, not far from Key West.

Powerful Hurricane Jose missed the Leeward Islands this weekend, but it might have a second chance to strike the Caribbean and possibly Florida, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, more than 200,000 people waited in shelters across Florida.

More than six million people have been ordered to evacuate the southern end, that's about a third of the state's population. Petersburg area by early Monday, though in a much-weakened state.

As Irma moves inland, more than 45 million people will face tropical storm conditions.

Irma was expected to reach the heavily populated Tampa-St.

It's time to tack on another day since Tampa Bay's last direct hit from a major hurricane, another day to breathe a sigh of relief. Tybee Island and the historic city of Savannah were particularly hard hit by rains and a storm surge. It gradually weakened to a tropical storm and then a tropical depression on Monday.

More than 2.7 million homes and businesses across the state were without power, and utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone. Beginning as a Category 4 storm, Jose was downgraded to a Category 2 Sunday - a lesser storm, but one that could still bring destructive winds and rain.

In Miami, one of two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed atop a high-rise in Irma's 100mph winds.

Irma was at one point the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, with winds up to 185 miles per hour (298 kph). "First thing I saw were the trees down", said Jesse Hinson, who arrived to check on his house and was amazed by his luck.

"We know we have many people who want to get off the island, as we have no power, and many, manty more trying to get on the island", Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman said. "I'm hoping they can get a message to us through a neighbor or friend".

The storm brought memories of Hurricane Charley, which blew ashore near Fort Myers in 2004 with winds near 149 miles per hour.

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