1. Hurricane

Hurricane 2019: Tampa Bay is improving its evacuation routes. Do you know yours?

The executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council says residents need to know how to leave the area in case of a severe storm.
Residents along the path of Hurricane Matthew were ordered to evacuate the east coast of Florida in October 2016, resulting in back-ups along westbound Interstate 4 in the Champions Gate area. [CHRIS URSO | Times] [CHRIS URSO | ]
Published Jun. 7
Updated Aug. 30

Thousands of Tampa Bay residents spent hours crawling out of town on crowded evacuation routes two years ago when Hurricane Irma was getting closer to shore. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstates, combined with fears of running out of gas, caused many residents to stay put.

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

This certainly isn’t a situation we want to see in the future. So as extreme weather events and sea level rise become the accepted norm, leaders and planners around the Tampa Bay region are working together to improve evacuation routes and key infrastructure.

As this planning work moves forward, though, here are tips to keep in mind:

• Know the evacuation zone in which you live. This information is typically available on your county or city website.

• If ordered to evacuate, do so sooner than later. Roads will be less congested for your drive.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council]

• If you are in a non-evacuation zone, think about sheltering in place, as getting on the road adds congestion for citizens who must evacuate.

• Think about driving tens of miles, not hundreds. Getting to a less threatened area within the state instead of trying to leave Florida means less time on the road, in turn making the highways less congested for everyone.

• Know your evacuation routes by taking note of the blue “evacuation route” signs on area roads, looking up maps on your county’s website ahead of time, and reviewing information in this hurricane guide.

After a storm passes, the roads may not be clear and the damage to crucial infrastructure can complicate travel. Extreme weather causes damage to roads and highways, cutting off access to critical facilities and disrupting the flow of goods that help people recover after a hurricane.

To make evacuations easier in major storms, a first step would be a statewide study of evacuation routes and tactics, which has recently been tackled by the Florida Legislature.

Regional planning councils around the state could collaborate to collect and study data that will be used to enhance statewide evacuation if necessary. Such a study determining best practices for the state could lead to:

• Expanding north-south limited access roadways farther north.

• Standard guidelines for when a request is made to forgo toll fees.

• The addition of more feeder roads to evacuation routes so evacuees have more options.

Also, the Federal Highway Administration recently funded, via a nationwide pilot program, a study assessing the area’s transportation systems’ vulnerability to sea level rise, storm surge and flooding. These assessments will help us understand both risk factors and potential mitigation measures, so routine road repairs can take potential future risks into account.

This Resilient Tampa Bay program, which involves transportation representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, is one of 11 pilot programs around the country. Its findings could lead to adaptation of strategies that make transportation networks more resilient in major storms, such as:

• Building detention basins or crushed stone drainage systems next to major highways.

• Raising curbs around the shoulders of roads to protect them from water erosion.

• Installing better drainage ditches in the medians between travel lanes.

• Enhancing landscaping so it can utilize drain water to thrive.

In another step toward sharing research and planning, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council last year formed the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition, which involves six counties and 20 cities collaborating on new initiatives related to mitigating the impacts of flooding, storm surge and sea level rise.

Regional and statewide collaboration like this is key in short-term and long-term planning to make us and our properties safer before, during and after a hurricane. Residents need to be aware of the threats and they need to get involved as local municipalities strive to help make us less vulnerable in the years ahead. The time to prepare for hurricane season is now.

Sean Sullivan is the executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which works with 27 west-central Florida municipalities to make long-range plans to reduce the impact storms have on our region.

2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

What Michael taught the Panhandle and Tampa Bay

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael.

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind


  1. The tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that’s projected to strengthen as it approaches Florida could put a crimp ― or much worse ― in Tampa Bay’s weekend plans. National Hurricane Center
    The National Weather Service warns that the Gulf of Mexico disturbance could strengthen and bring wind, rain and possibly tornadoes to the bay area.
  2. A broad area of low pressure headed toward the Gulf of Mexico will bring wind, rain and possibly tornadoes to the Tampa Bay area this weekend. National Hurricane Center
    The National Hurricane Center has issued a storm surge watch for Florida’s Gulf Coast from Indian Pass to Clearwater.
  3. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. Florida State University professor Wenyuan Fan said the storm probably created "stormquakes" offshore in the gulf, too. [Photo courtesy of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration]] NOAA
    Analysis of a decade of records shows hurricanes causing seismic activity on continental shelf
  4. Tropical depression 15 has formed in the eastern Atlantic. National Weather Service
    The newly formed system joins a tropical wave off the coast of South America.
  5. Peggy Wood, center, attends a community announcement with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, in Mexico Beach in September. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Wood family presses forward with plans to rebuild the Driftwood Inn amid a changing town.
  6.  Mexico Beach, one year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Michael. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    One year later, Mexico Beach is still recovering from the Category 5 storm.
  7. Meteorologists are keeping watch on a system in the mid-Atlantic that could develop into a tropical storm sometime in the next two days. A system off the eastern coast of Florida will bring heavy rainfall to the state before moving to the east, north of the Bahamas. National Weather Service
    While the chance of further development is low, the system will bring heavy rains to the state.
  8. The National Hurricane center National Hurricane Service
    The system poses no threat to Florida.
  9. The endangered torreya tree at the Gregory House at Torreya State Park north of Bristol. Special to the Times
    The storm had some unintended — and devastating — consequences for a small but mighty endangered tree.
  10. In this Sept. 16, 2019 photo, Remelda Thomas bows her head in prayer in her home in McLean's Town Cay, Grand Bahamas Island, Bahamas. Thomas said she lost eight family members in the storm. While sleeping one night after the storm the wind was blowing and the tarp over the hole in her roof was snapping and it brought back the fear from Hurricane Dorian. CHRIS DAY  |  AP
    Dorian mustered massive strength over warm waters and lashed the Bahamas for almost 40 hours. The ocean roared ashore and swelled 20 feet high.