Regardless of whether Hurricane Irma strikes the Florida Peninsula’s west coast, or simply skirts by its coastline, the storm’s impacts on the Florida Peninsula will remain largely unchanged. With the exception of the western portions of the Florida Panhandle, Irma will blast the entire state with tropical storm force winds, and only the extreme eastern and northern parts of the peninsula will avoid hurricane force winds. Though the Gulf side will bear the brunt of Irma’s fury, the Atlantic side will still have to deal with tornadoes forming within the storm’s spiral bands, increased wave and storm surge heights, and hurricane-force wind gusts.
How Irma will Impact Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay (TB) National Weather Service (NWS) expects sustained winds of 55-75 mph and gusts of 95 mph over inland areas of Hillsborough County, 75-95 mph winds and 115 gusts for coastal Hillsborough County, and 90-110 mph winds with 135 mph gusts in Pinellas County. Should the 90 degree water temperatures successfully offset any expected increases in wind shear beyond the 24-hour time frame, winds would worsen across the area.
Storm surge heights will range from 5-8 feet across Pinellas County and around Tampa Bay, with isolated areas closer to 10 feet. Should the warm water allow Irma to re-intensify above current NHC Forecasts, surge heights could range from 5-10 feet, with isolated areas with surge close to 12 feet. If needed, I will update/revise the wind and/or storm surge heights should the Sunday 11 a.m. advisory require the adjustments
Regardless, wave heights up to 25 feet on top of the water rise could cause greater damage along the waterfront communities. Rainfall totals of 8-12 inches, with isolated totals of 15 inches, will further exacerbate flooding on top of already saturated grounds from the recent rounds of rains from thunderstorms across the area dating back to late August.
For these reasons, the NHC has placed the entire Tampa Bay area under a Hurricane Warnings, with coastal areas also assigned Storm Surge Warnings. The TB NWS has issued Flash Flood Watches for the expected heavy rainfall. The Storms Prediction Center will likely issue a Tornado Watch for all areas in and around Tampa Bay later today.
Links to Additional Hurricane and Local Weather Information
For additional information about Hurricane Irma, please visit the National Hurricane Center website and the AccuWeather Hurricane Center website. For the latest track and model projections related to Irma and other ongoing tropical systems, please visit the Spaghetti Models website. To find out more about Hurricane Irma’s potential impacts for the Tampa Bay area, please visit the TB NWS website, Meteorologist Denis Phillips Facebook page, and the Storm Team 8 Facebook page.