They were warned about Fay. Then Gustav. But few residents of coastal areas around Tampa Bay were expecting distant Hurricane Ike to flood their neighborhoods.
For the second day in a row Thursday, Tampa Bay tides were as much as 4 feet higher than normal as Hurricane Ike plowed toward Texas.
The rising water was not caused by rain or storm surge, but by heavy winds extending 275 miles from the center of Hurricane Ike, said Mike Clay, chief meteorologist for Bay News 9.
The winds created more than 30-foot swells in the bathtub that is the Gulf of Mexico.
As Ike barrels toward Texas, flooding will likely diminish around Tampa Bay today, with high tides only about two feet higher than normal, Clay said. He hopes residents note the flooding and consider what a direct hit by a hurricane could do.
"Look what's happened with a Category 2 hurricane 400 miles away from us," Clay said. "Imagine what would happen if it were 100 miles away or 50 miles away."
But at Ballast Point Park in Tampa, George Illes wasn't worried about his restaurant, Taste of Boston — he's never even bought flood insurance. "I guess if something does happen, it'll be out of my own pocket," he said.
St. Petersburg police closed some streets in Shore Acres on Thursday after residents complained that people were driving too fast through flooded streets, pushing saltwater closer to their homes. They reopened them in the afternoon.
"This is the highest it's been," said Mike Spinale, 29, who owns a home in Shore Acres. But he said he wasn't any more worried about storms because of this week's flooding. "If we had a direct hit, depending on the conditions, all of Tampa Bay needs to be concerned, not just the coastal areas."
Hurricane Ike will continue to affect the Tampa Bay area's weather in the coming days.
Dry air trailing Ike will make for a hot weekend before the usual scattered rainstorms return next week, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker.
Today, high tide is expected at 1 p.m. In New Port Richey, Thursday's high tide crested the seawall along the Pithlachascotee River, flooding streets.
"We don't live on the river, we live in the river," Harold Windlan said.
Times staff writers Kim Wilmath and Brendan Fitterer contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or [email protected]