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Looking back on Tampa's history with monster hurricanes

The last major hurricane to make a direct hit on the Tampa Bay region was exactly 100 years ago, in 1921.

TAMPA, Fla. — Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to impact the Florida coast by Tuesday.

While it's certainly a storm to prepare for and one that could bring potentially dangerous storm surge to the Tampa Bay area, Elsa has been downgraded from hurricane strength and isn't currently forecast to be a hurricane when it reaches the Sunshine State. Based on present forecasting, Elsa won't be anywhere close to the most powerful storm to impact the Bay area in the last century.

The last major hurricane to make a direct hit on the Tampa Bay area was 100 years ago in October 1921. The Tampa Bay Hurricane, as it is now known, actually created the Honeymoon and Caladesi islands by splitting an existing barrier island in half. 

At its peak, that hurricane was a Category 4, with sustained winds of up to 140 mph. 

In 1935, the Labor Day Hurricane caused major damage in the mid and upper Florida Keys. It remains the most powerful hurricane to hit the United States in recorded history, with winds of up to 185 mph. 

The Labor Day Hurricane passed just offshore of Tampa Bay, narrowly skirting the area. Despite making landfall further north, it did significant damage to the Bay area, partly due to storm surge.

After that, Hurricane Easy in 1950 is the most noteworthy storm. While it also became a major hurricane as a Category 3 storm, it weakened in the Gulf ahead of landfall just north of Tampa Bay. 

Despite its weakened status, two people were killed by the storm. Meteorologists say the death toll could have been much worse if it weren't for the sparse population in the areas hardest hit by the storm. However, in the 71 years since, Florida's coastal population has boomed, meaning that another slow-moving storm like Easy could be catastrophic. 

While most of these hurricanes were decades ago, most Floridians will remember Hurricane Irma, which passed east of Tampa as a weakening Category 1 hurricane in 2017. 

Irma was the first Category 5 hurricane of the 2017 season, and is currently the third-most powerful storm to make landfall in the U.S. (behind the Labor Day Hurricane and Hurricane Dorian in 2019). 

The wind field from Irma brought gale-force winds through much of Florida. 

Although Tropical Storm Elsa isn't expected to be anywhere close to the strength shown by some of the biggest monster storms in history, it's still a reminder for Tampa Bay residents to be prepared for hurricane season. 

The National Weather Service is predicting an unusually active hurricane season this year, and Elsa breaks another record by being the fastest that meteorologists have reached the E name on their storm list since the naming tradition began in 1950. 

Hurricane Easy, which hit that year, didn't form until the start of September. 

You can find the latest forecast, resources and a hurricane prep checklist here

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