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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Here’s why Hurricane Ian sucked water out of Tampa Bay

Water receding ahead of Hurricane Ian’s arrival. Officials with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office warned people not to try to visit the coasts.

By Elena Shao

Even as some parts of Florida’s coast experience a catastrophic surge of seawater over their shores, Hurricane Ian has pushed water out of Tampa Bay, leaving it less than 1 foot deep in some areas.

The phenomenon, reminiscent of what occurred during Hurricane Irma in 2017, is likely to last only a few hours — and could suddenly reverse, with damaging results.

The outward flow is sometimes referred to as a reverse, or negative, storm surge. A storm surge occurs when high-speed winds push ocean water onshore, but in this case the winds drained the bay instead of flooding it.

A hurricane’s winds blow counterclockwise, and with Ian passing south of Tampa Bay, winds to the north of the storm are blowing in from the east, pushing water away from the shoreline, said Christopher Slocum, a physical scientist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The unusual sight drew curious onlookers, but officials warned that it’s dangerous to wander out along shores with receding tides. The water will eventually return and could rise quickly in a matter of minutes, posing a “life-threatening” risk.

Other areas along the southwest Florida coastline in particular are recording storm surges as much as 18 feet above ground level, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The negative tide could continue for a couple of hours.

If the wind were to abruptly cease or shift, the water could return to Tampa Bay in force, surging above normal high water levels, Kerry A. Emanuel, a meteorologist and hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an email.

Even with the temporary negative tide, forecasters are still expecting a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet in the Tampa Bay area.

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