Explore 9,000 mock storms to see how much Tampa Bay could flood

Wind speed isn’t the only thing affecting storm surge. See for yourself.
Published Jan. 27, 2022|Updated Jan. 27, 2022

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When a hurricane or tropical storm is on the way, the first thing people usually hear about is wind.

But wind is only part of the danger. More people in the U.S. die from water, especially storm surge that can rise a couple of stories high.

Related: It won’t take the ‘perfect storm’ to wreak havoc across Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay is extremely vulnerable to storm surge, even from weak hurricanes. And flooding is caused by a lot more than just wind.

See for yourself:

In 2015, researchers from Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used computer models to show the range of potential flooding and how often it could occur. In doing so, authors Ning Lin and Kerry Emanuel built and measured more than 9,000 “synthetic storms” affecting Tampa Bay.

These realistic (but hypothetical) storms let scientists see what would happen in countless situations: if 100-mph winds swirl here, how much water will they push there?

For each storm, the authors measured how high surge would reach at a single point in Tampa.

At the Tampa Bay Times’ request, they shared their data, giving reporters myriad examples of storms that could flood the region.

First, here’s how to read a track, using a real example: Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The line shows the path of the eye of the storm, while each dot represents where it was at one point in time. Circles outlined in black indicate the storm was a hurricane; those in yellow mean it was a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher). The size of the circle indicates the maximum sustained wind speeds — the bigger the circle, the faster the winds.

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2021 Tampa Bay Times hurricane guide

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