Last month, Colorado State University climatologists announced that the 2012 hurricane season, which begins June 1, should be slower than normal with 10 named storms, including four hurricanes, two major.
Today, our advance warning system lets us plan days ahead of a storm, typically leading to evacuations of specific areas along the coast. While these warnings and evacuations are common once the season starts, it’s important to remember the widespread damages and impacts of storms past.
One such storm was the devastating Hurricane of 1921, also known as the Tarpon Springs Hurricane— the effects of which impacted Pasco County.
Historic reports document the hurricane came ashore on Oct. 25, 1921, preceded by approximately 42 hours of rain. Landfall wind speeds reportedly reached 120 m.p.h. with a 10.5 foot storm surge in Tampa Bay, the highest since 1848.
By today’s standards, the hurricane had reached a category 3.
In Tarpon Springs, where the storm finally made landfall, wind speeds were recorded at 100 mph. As the eye passed over, it was dead calm for more than an hour when A.P. Albaugh recorded a low barometric pressure of 28.12.
Here in New Port Richey and the surrounding area things weren’t so quiet. During a newspaper interview, Joe Baillie later recalled boats that had been moored along the river broke free and were floating in the streets.
Telephone and electric wires went down as poles snapped like twigs and a number of homes lost their roof tops as they were blown away by the raging winds.
The Community Congregational Church on Circle Blvd., which was under construction at the time, had a block wall blown completely out by the gale force winds.
The Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, then located on Washington St., was lifted from its foundations and the belfry toppled to the ground. Father Felix Ulrich, the parish priest, rode out the storm in the church’s sacristy and was miraculously unharmed.
In Elfers, when winds became too strong , a group of about 10 students who went to school that day were forced to ride out the storm in the two-story school building.
Maxine Gause later recalled the door to the upstairs classroom blew open, and when tying it shut wouldn’t work, the students took turns standing against it in an attempt to keep it closed. Another student reported that most of the windows blew out and for about seven hours they swept the blowing rain out of the school building.
The area's citrus industry was also extensively damaged as fruit was stripped from the trees. Sustained industry losses statewide were estimated to be 800,000 to 1,000,000 boxes of fruit-- more than $1,000,000 in monetary loss.
In Dade City damages were also evident. On Palm Ave., the Sunnybrook Tobacco Company lost storage barn No. 3 when it was blown over. The historic two-story frame Fort Dade Methodist Church and Masonic Lodge, built in 1872, was destroyed beyond repair-- never to be rebuilt.
Nearby, St. Leo received more rain then any other location, an amazing 11.7 inches.
Farther south, bridges along the Pinellas point were swept away; between Clearwater and St. Petersburg parts of the Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad tracks were extensively damaged by storm surge. Early reports indicated that Pass-a-Grille had been wiped off the map but these reports eventually proved to be incorrect even though cut-off from the mainland.
While warnings went out before the hurricane, it was likely that many residents didn’t know of its approach or its strength. In Tampa on the day of the storm, a small column appeared on the front page of the newspaper giving residents a few hours to prepare.
Those who witnessed the Hurricane of 1921 -- young and old -- were left with vivid memories of the storms violent furry. Incredibly, the loss of life was minimal with a statewide death toll of 10, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
While the hurricane’s impact to Pasco County might seem minimal, today these damages would have been exponentially increased given our amount of development along the west coast.
So, as we begin another hurricane season on June 1, let’s be mindful of Mother Nature’s strength and her past history.
"Moving Forward, Looking back" under columns bar Jeff Cannon: firstname.lastname@example.org