If a major storm heads towards the Tampa Bay area, one option for residents will be to get out of town. But remember that this might not be simple or easy after a storm.
If a Category 3 storm hit us, it’s important to know that many of the area’s main arteries — such as Gandy Boulevard, Courtney Campbell Causeway, U.S. 41 from East Tampa to State Road 674 and U.S. 19 in parts of north Pinellas County and Pasco County — could become impassible.
In 2019, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, along with Metropolitan Planning Organizations from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, participated in a transportation study called “Resilient Tampa Bay.” The study showed that wind, debris, heavy rain and flooding could impair or even disable many major transportation links in our area if there’s a major storm.
Unfortunately, this situation isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon, given that sufficiently addressing these issues could cost more than an estimated $4.7 billion.
So as our local, state and federal government agencies consider ways to improve our transportation network, it’s important for residents to make plans for potential travel now, as hurricane season begins.
First, here are five things to think about ahead of time:
If you decide to leave town, make the decision early
The last thing you want to do is to be driving when a storm draws close, which could lead to everything from unsafe driving conditions to running out of gas if service stations are closed.
Plan your route ahead of time
If possible, follow the suggested hurricane route. This is where emergency personnel work to ensure that there is food, water and fuel along the way. Study the routes in your county’s hurricane preparedness materials so you know which roads you would travel.
Evacuate if you are told to do so
Emergency personnel will not be able to get into an evacuated zone during a storm and for hours, or even days, after a major storm, so it’s critical that you leave if you’re told to.
Prepare your vehicle ahead of time
Make sure you have a full tank of gas, properly inflated tires and a well-maintained vehicle. And have a hurricane kit on hand that includes such things as food, medication, flares, important documents, a flashlight, rain ponchos and basic car repair tools.
Have paper maps in your vehicle
In a worst-case scenario, cell service could be down, rendering GPS mapping useless. So have paper maps on hand as a backup.
And here are six things to keep in mind if you decide to hit the road:
If you see a flooded area, don’t try to drive through it
Back up, and figure out a different route. There is no way to know how deep the water is, and each vehicle is different in how it may withstand water from underneath.
Your vehicle is not a shelter
If there are extremely high winds or the threat of a tornado, your car is not the best place to be. Find shelter as quickly as possible if you’re faced with this situation.
Drive even more defensively than usual
Remember that everyone on the road will be stressed, and be ready for other drivers to make unpredictable moves, whether it’s to avoid high water or to deal with heavy traffic.
Prepare for potential traffic backups
Interstates and major highways are often clogged as storms approach, so be ready for a much longer trip than usual. Make sure you have gas, and bring plenty of food and water in case you are stuck on the highway.
Follow posted signs
If a temporary sign is diverting you from your usual route, there’s a reason: It probably means your usual road is impassible or dangerous. Don’t try to outsmart the emergency experts.
Even if you are stuck in traffic, keep the kids in their car seats
It can be tempting to let the kids roam around the car if you are stuck in traffic, but that carries safety risks. For example, let’s say the car behind you mistakenly starts to move before you do – that would create a dangerous situation.
As you consider your options as a storm approaches, remember that the key is to make the decision early on whether you’re staying or leaving. It’s always to safest to stay off the road, but if you feel that’s the best option, make sure you take the right precautions to keep you and your family safe.
Sean Sullivan is executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
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2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away
BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos
BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter