Tampa Bay, the time has come. No screwing around.
As Idalia nears, stay calm, but do indulge a healthy amount of alarm.
David Fuentes, 34, loads sandbags onto a truck bed, ahead of Tropical Storm Idalia's arrival, at MacFarlane Park in Tampa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023.
David Fuentes, 34, loads sandbags onto a truck bed, ahead of Tropical Storm Idalia's arrival, at MacFarlane Park in Tampa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. [ IVY CEBALLO | AP ]
Published Aug. 28|Updated Aug. 28

There it was: the familiar misery of navigating an unhinged Mario Kart gas station before a hurricane.

The Clearwater Shell was teeming with hyperactive users Monday, all staring out upon the same precipice of crisis. A woman in a Volkswagen Beetle attempted to back through me, as if my car was a pesky specter keeping her from the last of the four-and-a-half dollar premium gas. Other customers wandered around the lot with their mouths agape, looking as if they had recently lost something. Primarily, their minds.

I am with them! Mind, gone! In that cursed parking lot, the tempting urge came back: the sweet compulsion to indulge in panic. What harm would come from pulling around the corner by the car wash and having a good little cry? It’s impossible, yet unfortunately so possible, to comprehend that we are back in this routine, this depressing cycle of heaving Dasani into the trunk and charging power banks and making travel arrangements while watching a swirling menace grow stronger in the bathtub-warm waters off of Tampa Bay.

During impending disasters, the populace loves a level-headed presentation of the facts. Everyone wants to hear that scary things will be fine if we only act responsibly. With that said, it is my professional duty as a journalist to officially tell you not to panic, but to prepare.

Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to become a major hurricane, potentially bringing several feet of storm surge to our area. As we know from past reporting, even weak storms can pose severe flooding threats to Tampa Bay, which is among the most vulnerable regions in the state.

Finalize your preparations, and if you’re told to leave, leave. As of this writing, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Manatee counties have issued some mandatory evacuation orders. Stay informed with live updates here or via any trusted news source; all Tampa Bay Times storm coverage is free and open right now as a public service.

One more thing, though. One teensy little matter. It is my duty as a human being to also tell you that this super sucks. OK?

Let’s feel that together briefly. Take a minute. Revel in the sheer, unrelenting suckitude of the situation. Acknowledge the fresh memories of Hurricane Ian, all those stories of death and loss and waters sweeping away entire lives. Curse the storms that came before and the ones that will come next. Don’t push the dismay away, not fully, at least.

See, I have a theory about managing negative emotions. Expressing them can function as a sort of controlled burn, a breadcrumb trail of misery set loose so we don’t get completely lost. Admitting when things are stressful and scary and uncertain — without necessarily having a solution at hand — is crucial for getting through those things. Puppylike positivity, naivete or ignorance tends to manifest as someone who boogie boards in hurricane winds for TikTok and has a survival kit of only Busch Lights.

Fear gets a bad rap, is the point here, and I just think people with a slightly furrowed brow make the best choices. Fear helps keep us alive; it’s part of our complete evolutionary pamphlet in the mental glove box.

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So, no, don’t panic, but treat this threat with the respect it demands, the devil’s deal that comes prepackaged with living on a peninsula that sticks out into the ocean. Then, pull it together. Fuel up calmly and don’t steamroll people with your weird, jolly Beetle. Do the tasks that need to be done and help your neighbors do the same, then get ready for another ride. At the end, we can follow the breadcrumbs back.

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