Hurricane Ian: ‘Reverse storm surge’ sucks water out of Tampa Bay

It was an eerie sight -- water being sucked away from Tampa Bay while storm surges from Hurricane Ian battered the southwest coast of Florida as the Category 4 storm made landfall on Wednesday.

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Around 8 a.m. EDT, the tide in Tampa Bay began to recede, causing a rare phenomenon called “reverse storm surge,” the Tampa Bay Times reported. That is when storm winds push water out of the bay, Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay, told the newspaper.

The scenario is similar to what happened to Tampa Bay area waters in September 2017, when Hurricane Irma rolled up the eastern Gulf of Mexico after making landfall near Marco Island. On Wednesday, waters in Hillsborough Bay along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa and parts of the Intracoastal Waterway in Pinellas County were receding, WTVT reported.

Because the winds of a hurricane blow counterclockwise, winds to the north of the storm’s eye are blowing in from the east, The New York Times reported. That causes waters to be pushed away from the shoreline, according to Christopher Slocum, a physical scientist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

While some residents ventured out into the newly barren bay, officials warned that the water would return and could rise swiftly in a matter of minutes to pose a “life-threatening” risk, according to the newspaper.

The water did rush back, and weather officials are still predicting a storm surge in Tampa Bay between 4 and 6 feet, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The water could even surge above normal high-water levels, Kerry A. Emanuel, a meteorologist and hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The New York Times in an email.

“Do not walk out into receding water in Tampa Bay or Charlotte Harbor -- the water WILL return through storm surge and poses a life-threatening risk,” the Florida Division of Emergency Management tweeted.