September and October are the two months when the Florida West Coast is most at risk of encountering landfalling hurricanes. As the cold season approaches, the prevailing westerlies begin to increase and migrate southward across the US and start to encroach out over the Gulf of Mexico.
When tropical cyclones move across the Caribbean Sea or form over the Western Caribbean and then move northwestward through the Yucatan Channel during the early Autumn, they will often feel the effects of the westerlies and as a result, will turn north then northeastward towards the West Coast of Florida. A few notable examples where Hurricanes Donna (Sept 1960), Wilma (Oct 2005) and Irma (Sept 2017).
Tampa Bay Major Hurricane Landfalls
The first major hurricane to make landfall in the Tampa Bay region was the “Great Gale of 48”, which was a major hurricane that hit in late Sept of 1848. The September 1848 storm was an intense hurricane with estimated maximum winds of between 101-135 mph at landfall near Clearwater during the early afternoon of September 25th with an estimated minimum pressure of about 945mb.
The second major hurricane to make landfall near Tampa was also the most significant hurricane to affect the area, making landfall on October 25th of 1921. During the night of the 24th and the morning of the 25th the hurricane turned toward the north-northeast then later northeast finally making landfall near Tarpon Springs, Florida where a minimum barometer reading of 28.12 inches (952 mb) was recorded at 2:15 PM. This reading suggests that a max wind at landfall was about 110 knots (125 mph) which would make this storm a Cat 3 hurricane. After landfall, the storm tracked east-northeast across Florida exiting near Daytona Beach early on the 26th as a Cat.1 hurricane.
During the latter half of the hurricane season, the prevailing westerlies begin to increase and migrate southward across the US and start to encroach over the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical cyclones that move into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico often will feel the effects of the westerlies causing the storms to recurve north then northeastward and thus threaten the west coast of Florida.
During September the primary tracks will cause these storms to make landfall mostly between the Mississippi Delta to the Florida Panhandle or Florida’s Nature Coast. During October, the storms will tend to recurve sooner targeting the West-Central and Southwestern Florida Coasts.