1921 Tampa Bay hurricane

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Tampa Bay hurricane of 1921
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Hurricane Six analysis 24 Oct 1921.jpg
The hurricane on October 24, several hours after peak intensity
Formed October 20, 1921
Dissipated October 30, 1921
Highest winds 1-minute sustained: 140 mph (220 km/h)
Lowest pressure ≤ 941 mbar (hPa); 27.79 inHg
Fatalities 3-8 direct
Damage $10 million (1921 USD)
Areas affected Western Caribbean, Cuba, Florida Keys, Florida Peninsula
Part of the 1921 Atlantic hurricane season

The Tampa Bay hurricane of 1921 (also known as the 1921 Tarpon Springs hurricane) was the third hurricane, second major hurricane, and final storm of an inactive 1921 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm took a typical path for an October Atlantic hurricane, brushing past Cuba before hitting near Tampa, Florida, becoming the first major hurricane to hit the area since the hurricane of 1848. The hurricane was also the most destructive storm of the season, causing around $10 million (1921 USD), $92 million (2005 USD) in damage. It is the last major hurricane to strike the Tampa Bay area to date.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The storm was observed on October 20 while several hundred miles southwest of Jamaica. Its origin is unknown, though it possibly developed from a low pressure area over Panama a day earlier.[1] A high pressure system over Bermuda caused a north-northwest motion, allowing for the storm to intensify over favorable conditions. On October 22, the storm attained hurricane status shortly after passing 10 miles (16 km) east of the Swan Islands. On October 23, the hurricane attained a peak intensity of 140 miles per hour (230 km/h), with a central pressure of at most 27.80 inches of mercury (941.42 mb), as it entered the Yucatán Channel, with its eastern side brushing the western end of Cuba.[2]

As it turned to the north in the Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane maintained its intensity before curving to the north-northeast on October 24. Thereafter, it turned northeast and quickly weakened, making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane near Tarpon Springs, Florida, on October 25 with sustained winds of 115 mph (185 km/h) and a central pressure of 958 mb (28.29 inHg).[3] The hurricane quickly crossed Central Florida before entering the Atlantic, weakening to a minimal hurricane over land. It accelerated to the southeast before recurving to the east-northeast. It transformed into an extratropical cyclone on October 30 while centered southeast of Bermuda.[2]


Forecasters at the United States Weather Bureau issued advisories for ships and oceangoing vessels and hurricane warnings for areas in western Florida stretching from Key West to Apalachicola on October 24 and 25.[1]


In Cuba, heavy rainfall in Pinar del Río Province caused rivers and creeks to rise. However, only minimal damage was reported.[4]

The hurricane passed to the west of the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane. Its large wind field caused tropical storm force winds to the islands, with the highest wind report being 48 mph (71 km/h) in Key West. Rainfall from the hurricane's outer bands was intermittent, and storm tides of 5 ft (1.5 meters) were reported.[1] Along the Myakka River near Boca Grande, the railroad bridge washed away, while the storm also destroyed two vehicular bridges over the Charlotte Harbor Bay.[5] The streets of Punta Gorda were inundated, where a tide of 7 ft (2.1 m) above normal was recorded. Egmont Key and Sanibel Island were both "practically covered by water."

Flooding at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club

The hurricane brought a storm surge of 10–12 ft (3 to 3.5 m) to Tampa Bay.[6] The highest rainfall total in Tampa was at 8.53 in (23.5 mm).[1] However, the observer noted that winds probably blew water out of the gauge. The barometric pressure fell to 968 mbar (28.6 inHg), breaking a previous record set in 1910. The hurricane also brought sustained winds of 75 mph (119 km/h) and a storm tide of 10.5 ft (3 m).[1] Damage from the wind was generally minor, while most of the impact wrought by the storm was due to abnormally high tides in Tampa and elsewhere in the area. Much of the city was flooded,[6] with the worst along Bayshore Boulevard, where some of the most expensive properties were located. At Hyde Park, dwellings were inundated about halfway up the first story, prompting several people to be rescued by boat. Electrical poles and wires were washed away near the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and Howard Avenue. The latter was also left impassible by car.[7] In the Palmetto Beach neighborhood, much of the section was inundated. A group of about 40 volunteers rescued a number of women and children.[8] A total of 50 homes were destroyed by cedar logs used to construct cigar boxes at the Tampa Box Company on 22nd Street.

At Ballast Point, the pavilion and bathhouse were destroyed by the storm.[9] Nearby, the Tampa Yacht and Country Club suffered severe damage.[6] Many cars along the waterfront were severely damaged and nearly all flat railroad cars were submerged. The Malloy Line dock was also left under several feet of water. A number of waterfront warehouses were also damaged by floodwaters. After the Tampa Electrical Company power house experienced water damage, the electricity was shutoff. Additionally, the company's cable station was flooded under several feet of water. Winds downed hundreds of trees and sign across roadways and tore-up awnings. At least 50 awnings were ripped from a bank building on Franklin Street alone. Falling trees also damaged the post office and the YMCA.[7] Almost 500 dwellings in the neighborhood of Ybor City were demolished. Four people were killed in the city, one from a man coming into contact with a live wire in the Ybor City neighborhood and the other three from drowning.[6][7] Only minor damage occurred in Plant City. Throughout Hillsborough County, many county roads were impassible due to downed telegraph poles and other debris, especially between Tampa and Plant City.[7]

A road washed out in Pinellas County

Tides 5–6 ft (1.5–2 m) above normal and storm surge in St. Petersburg damaged or destroyed all four fishing piers. Many ships and boats of all sizes capsized or were beached, including the trawler Hypnotist, which ejected the crew of seven into the water, all of whom were rescued. The St. Petersburg Beach Hotel was destroyed, after employees swam through the lobby for safety. At the office of the St. Petersburg Times, then located at Fifth Street and First Avenue South, the loss of electricity resulted in staff working overnight with lanterns. With no power to operate the typesetting machine, the employees connected their linotype machine to a two-cylinder motorcycle to publish the "Motorcycle Extra". Two deaths occurred in St. Petersburg, one from a heart attack during preparations for the storm and the other from a man being crushed by a falling roof. Damage reached approximately $5 million.

In St. Pete Beach, the Pass-a-Grille neighborhood was particularly hard hit. Although storm surge was partially diverted to Boca Ciega Bay, Pass-a-Grille generally suffered severe impact,[10] due to 5 to 7 ft (1.5 to 2.1 m) of water covering some areas.[11] The hotel was extensively damaged, while its dancing pavilion was destroyed.[10] A number of cottages were badly damaged.[11] The storm destroyed a casino in Gulfport.[6] The casino in Indian Rocks Beach collapsed after the sand foundation was washed away.[12] In Largo, nearly all of the buildings at that Pinellas County Fairgrounds were rendered unusable.[12] In Clearwater, the ice and power plants, a theater, and a hotel were severely damaged. Boats were tossed about in the bay.[13] In Tarpon Springs, streets were littered with masses of debris. Sections of the city along the Anclote River were flooded.[14]

In Pasco County, the hurricane destroyed the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which was never rebuilt. Only the church cemetery remains.[15] Another church, which opened early in the year, in Dade City was nearly demolished by falling trees. A turpentine plant was damaged, including the loss of about one-third of the lumber stored in the building. The Sunnybrook Tobacco Company suffered significant impact, with nine large barns destroyed and about 110 acres (45 ha) of trees fell. A number of other companies sustained damage, including the Dade City Packing Company and the Dade City Ice, Light and Power Company. Damage to the business reached $100,000. Several homes were damaged. Electrical, telegraph, and telephone wires were downed throughout the city. During the storm, electricity was maintained in the downtown section, while residential areas were left without power for two days. In San Antonio and Trilby, a number of buildings were moved off their foundations. The old city hall in Zephyrhills was moved about 4 ft (1.2 m). At a hotel, the building lost a portion of its roof and several windows were broken.[16] In addition, the hurricane virtually destroyed much of Passage Key, part of which was later rebuilt.[17]

In Polk County, the storm left light property damage in Lakeland, reaching under $5,000,[5] which included the school building being deroofed. Damage to crops was mostly limited to grapefruit and oranges, with losses estimated to have been less than 10%.[5] In the rural communities outside Lakeland, several small building suffered damage. This was considered the worst tropical cyclone in the area since 1897.[18] Lake County experienced sustained winds of 70 mph (110 km/h) and 12 to 15 in (300 to 380 mm) of rain in some areas. Much of the impact was confined to large trees being uprooted and ornamental vines suffering damage. A number of trees fell on electrical wires, causing power outages and disruptions to telephone service. Additionally, it is possible that a tornado touched down, based on some pine trees being "splintered from top to bottom and curled up like molasses candy."[19] Damage to citrus crops was light, with losses conservatively estimated at less than 5%.[5] Strong winds in Orange County left the entire city of Orlando without electricity, disrupting commerce.[20] Citrus crops suffered no more than 5% in losses in the county.[5] In St. Augustine, wind downed wires, some of which caused small fires in the business district.[20] A steamship capsized between Jacksonville and Miami and there were reports of damage to several other small boats offshore. Agricultural damage from the hurricane was high, with citrus crop losses totaling to $1 million (1921 USD). Damage to fertilizer and other materials also totaled to $1 million.[1] In all, the hurricane left 10 people dead (seven unaccounted for) and left $10 million.


One of the destroyed buildings at the Ballist Point Pavilion was soon rebuilt after the storm. However, the building was destroyed again by fire in 1922. In 1925 a new pavilion was built.[9]

Because of fears that the hurricane might hinder the Florida land boom that was in its existence during the 1920s, rebuilding and cleanup of the area commenced quickly and the land boom in the Tampa Bay region and in southern Florida continued.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f National Weather Service (1921) 1921 Monthly Weather Review Monthly Weather Review Retrieved:October 2, 2006
  2. ^ a b National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division (July 6, 2016). "Atlantic hurricane best track (HURDAT version 2)". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 27, 2017. 
  3. ^ National Hurricane Center; Hurricane Research Division; Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (April 2012). "Chronological List of All Continental United States Hurricanes: 1851–2011". United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  4. ^ "Tropical Storm Moves Into Gulf of Mexico". Havana, Cuba: The Palm Beach Post. October 25, 1921. p. 1. Retrieved September 1, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  5. ^ a b c d e "Five Millions Damage by Storm". The Palm Beach Post. Lakeland, Florida. October 28, 1921. p. 6. Retrieved February 23, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  6. ^ a b c d e Ballingurd, David It Could Happen Here St. Petersburg Times Retrieved:October 2, 2006
  7. ^ a b c d "Tampa is Hard Hit by Storm; Three Die During Heavy Gale". Tampa, Florida. October 27, 1921. p. 2. Retrieved November 26, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Florida Hurricane Hit Tampa Hard". The New York Times. Lakeland, Florida. October 26, 1921. Retrieved March 16, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b Pavilion History The Pavillions Retrieved:October 2, 2006
  10. ^ a b Pass-a-Grille Historic District (Boundary Increase) (PDF) (Report). National Park Service. 2003. p. 40. Retrieved March 21, 2017. 
  11. ^ a b "Lizotte Hotel Water Soaked". St. Petersburg Times. October 27, 1921. p. 2. Retrieved March 21, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Jack E. Dadswell (October 27, 1921). "Largo Gives Figures Showing Loss From Hurricane $50,000". St. Petersburg Times. Largo, Florida. p. 1. Retrieved September 28, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Damage to West Coast Cities Mounts Into Millions of Dollars". The Palm Beach Post. Lakeland, Florida. Associated Press. October 27, 1921. p. 1. Retrieved March 20, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ "Sponge City Is Hit Hard". St. Petersburg Times. October 28, 1921. p. 2. Retrieved March 21, 2017. 
  15. ^ a b "History of the Mount Zion Cemetery and the Fort Dade Methodist Church". Archived from the original on October 20, 2009. Retrieved October 2, 2006. 
  16. ^ "Sunny Brook Tobacco Company Loss $100,000. Fifty Percent Fruit Lost". Dade City Banner. October 28, 1921. Retrieved March 1, 2017. 
  17. ^ Passage Key and the American Wildlife Conservation Movement U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Retrieved:October 2, 2006
  18. ^ "Tampa Under Water". Sierra Vista Herald. Jacksonville, Florida. October 26, 1921. p. 1. Retrieved March 1, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  19. ^ "Hits Lake County". Tallahassee Democrat. Tavares, Florida. October 27, 1921. p. 1. Retrieved March 1, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  20. ^ a b "Sea, Piled Up by Gale, Floods Tampa; Damage $1,000,000". New-York Tribune. Jacksonville, Florida. October 26, 1921. p. 1. Retrieved March 1, 2017 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read

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