As Hurricane Irma hurtled toward Florida last year as a powerful Category 5 storm, the early question was where it would land.
Forecasters initially thought the storm would slam into the east coast and leave Miami under water. Then it shifted.
Instead Irma crashed through the lower Keys a year ago Monday at Category 4 strength. Then it curved back and made a second landfall the same day near Marco Island north of the Everglades as a Category 3 storm.
The Tampa Bay Times deployed a team of reporters and photographers around the state and across Tampa Bay in the run-up to and after the Irma’s arrival. To mark the first anniversary of Irma’s landfall in Florida on Sept. 10, 2017, a few of them sat down to recount what they saw.
What they remember is a storm that visited perils on nearly every part of Florida that varied depending on the location. With the season rapidly intensifying, their experiences remind residents to prepare for anything when a hurricane threatens, and to heed evacuation orders when they come.
Reporter Josh Solomon was in one of the first vehicles allowed back on the Keys after Irma passed. He found homes blown to bits, their appliances scattered across U.S. 1, and returning residents trying to find the pieces.
Marco Island was bathed in darkness and rain, as condo-tower alarms blared in the pre-dawn hours, when reporter Zack Sampson and photographer Douglas Clifford arrived. There they saw found downed trees and electric wires, but less widespread damage.
But not far away, in Everglades City, they encountered flooded roads and shop owners already trying to reclaim businesses swamped by the overflowing River of Grass.
Tampa Bay was supposedly spared the worst when Irma passed to the east at Category 1 strength, meaning we got the weak side of the storm. It still spawned freak phenomenon, like raining blowing sideways and to the south, in the opposite direction that the storm was traveling. Water was sucked out of Tampa Bay even as the massive cyclone backed the St. John’s River into downtown Jacksonville on the other side of the state.
Reporter Kathryn Varn ventured out to the beach communities of Pinellas County to find toppled trees by the score, a Citgo gas station awning blown over and a boat wedged beneath a St. Pete Beach bridge.
Roughly 6.7 million customers would lose power in Florida, nearly two-thirds of the state, and the Tampa Bay region experienced some of the most widespread outages, many lasting well more than a week.
Not having air conditioning was bad enough. But many stores struggled to restock shelves, restaurants remained closed for days and warm meals had to wait.
Varn remembers her first. It was a bacon blue-cheese burger from the Burg Bar & Grill in downtown St. Pete. Except they were out of bacon.
It was still damn good.