Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Forecast: Tampa Bay will feel the brunt of Irma on Sunday afternoon, into Monday

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Hurricane Irma isn't just huge, it's massive — wider than the state of Florida.

Its tropical storm-force winds span an area the size of Georgia, and its hurricane-force winds would nearly cover Massachusetts.

Animated forecast projections show the swirling system swallowing up Florida. The Tampa Bay area was put under a hurricane watch late Friday morning. While questions linger about Irma's path, forecasters on Friday were beginning to get a clearer picture of what the bay area could face when the storm passes.

"Wind, wind, wind … the biggest concern for us, right now, is wind," said 10Weather WTSP metrologist Grant Gilmore. "The worst impact possibly bringing Category 2 winds over inland spots of the bay area Sunday night, overnight into Monday morning."

Experts from the National Weather Service say the region could have tropical-force winds for up to 20 hours starting Sunday morning and hurricane winds up to nine hours starting later that afternoon.

Irma is expected to make landfall in South Florida by early Sunday morning, and Tampa Bay is sure to feel the impacts of the mega storm — the biggest threat later Sunday from those high winds and rainfall.

It's not just Irma's size that is concerning. It's the storm's predicted track toward Tampa, which could bring storm surge in the bay area during the back end of the storm as it continues to move north.

Any storm surge threat won't come until Sunday night, said National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Davis. The way it looked Friday afternoon, Davis said, the Tampa area could have more than 3 feet of storm surge, but official warnings would be made about 60 hours before the water would be anticipated to rise.

"The storm track for Tampa is to our east," he said. "It's a delayed storm surge."

If the track were to move over the Gulf, however, storm surge would rise during the brunt of the storm, much like it's expected to do in South Florida.

"The only way we would have a surge threat is if it moved into the bay or gulf, which few models indicate," Gilmore said.

Predicted tracks had shown the storm skirting slightly east, away from the Gulf Coast. The latest from the National Hurricane Center on Friday showed it going up the center of the state. How sharp a turn Irma makes as it heads north is going to dictate a lot for what Tampa Bay will have to face.

As of 11 a.m. Friday, Irma weakened into a still-strong Category 4 with sustained winds up around 150 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles from the center, with tropical storm-force winds reaching 185 miles away.

Winds will first begin to pick up in Tampa Bay on Saturday, when there could be a decent amount of summertime rain, which was forecast to begin Friday evening.

The most rain is expected to fall during the peak time for winds, Sunday night through Monday morning. Areas across Tampa Bay could see anywhere between 5 to 8 inches of rain, but those predictions were still in flux Friday.

Officials said they would have to continue to monitor storm surge possibilities as Irma progresses. Pinellas County officials said early Friday afternoon they were waiting for the weather service's 5 p.m. report before they would evacuate any additional zones near the coastline.

Nicole Carlisle, a National Weather Service forecaster, said Irma is on track to get away from Tampa Bay and out of Florida fairly quickly.

"By Monday afternoon it should be making its way into Georgia, so we could still have some residual rain bands associated with it then, but it will begin to get much calmer," she said.

By Tuesday, Carlisle said, things should be more normal — though it might be a bit breezy.

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale. Contact Samantha Putterman at [email protected] Follow @samputterman.

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