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A major hurricane decimated the Tampa Bay area 100 years ago. Here's what happened

Tracking map showing path of 1921 hurricane that made landfall in Tarpon Springs
National Weather Service
This tracking map from 1921 shows the path of a Category 3 hurricane that made landfall in Tarpon Springs on Oct. 25, 2021.

On Oct. 25, 1921, one of the most destructive hurricanes that the Tampa Bay area experienced hit the region. The National Weather Service took a look back at the Category 3 storm.

A storm surge up to 11 feet. Winds estimated at 120 mph. Many power poles and trees knocked down, and widespread destruction across the region.

This is what the greater Tampa Bay region experienced when the most destructive hurricane since 1848 made landfall here 100 years ago.

That was on Oct. 25, 1921.

FLORIDA MATTERS: We explore Tampa Bay's hurricane preparedness, 100 years after the Tarpon Springs hurricane

The National Weather Service built an interactive web page that documented the events that took place as the hurricane emerged off the eastern Central American coast earlier that week and moved northeast toward West Central Florida.

It eventually made landfall in Tarpon Springs as a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds estimated at 120 mph.

The weather service collected data from 1921, including archive photos showing the damage, and tracking maps — that may look crude by today’s advanced standards — which plotted the storm on its way to the region.

It even used that data to build an animated image that would show the storm’s path if meteorologists were tracking it today.

Animated tracking map of the 1921 hurricane
National Weather Service
This simulation shows the track of the hurricane based on data gathered in 1921.

According to the weather service, here’s how the hurricane transpired and impacted the Tampa Bay area.

1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane

Downtown Tampa and Tarpon Springs experienced the highest storm surge during the hurricane. Here's the damage along what is now the Tampa Riverwalk, and how it looks today. You can view more then-and-now photos here.

Before and after pictures of the Tampa Riverwalk area, showing debris from the 1921 hurricane
Courtesy: National Weather Service
These before-and-after photos show the area on the Tampa Riverwalk after a hurricane struck the area in 1921.

The surge also caused ships to smash into docks and seawalls, which then led to more destruction or ships sinking.

Old picture of destroyed docks
St. Petersburg Museum of History
Here's the turnout for most docks close to the shore throughout the hurricane.

Ybor City was another place that was hard hit as waves caused boats to smash into docks — with similar destruction occurring along the coast.

Structures closer to the coast suffered heavy damage as well.

The peak wind with the storm hit Tarpon Springs, causing roofs and windows to be damaged from houses and other structures.

The wind and storm surge even destroyed citrus crops.

 Roofs and windows damaged
Tampa Bay History Center
Here's how most houses and structures were damaged from the high winds of the hurricane.

The modern tools that are used now to predict hurricanes and their potential damage, such as satellites and radars, were not available a century ago and made forecasting difficult.

Sadly, there were eight confirmed deaths during the hurricane because of either drowning from the storm surge from those who lived or were near structures close to the coast, and of falling debris.

Kids sitting on fallen power line.
Tampa Bay History Center
The falling debris caused by the hurricane included fallen power lines, which resulted in death by some people.

To see more pictures, videos and an explanations of the hurricane's aftermath, and to view model simulations of how the weather service would monitor the storm with its current tools, can click here.

Leonardo Santos is the WUSF Rush Family Social Media Intern for the fall of 2021, his second straight semester with WUSF.