Stunning video and photos taken along Florida’s west coast show Tampa Bay’s waterways completely dried up before Hurricane Ian landfall on Wednesday.
Strong winds from Ian pushed water away from shore and into the gulf, similar to what happened just before Hurricane Irma landfall in 2017.
But experts have warned that the receding tide, called a negative storm surge, is only temporary and the water will return, likely to much higher levels.
“Don’t go there. It’s so dangerous to go out there,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “Even if you see the water receding, now is not the time to go out there and watch it and pick up seashells or anything. We’ve seen that, and those types of storms, when the winds drop, when the winds drop, that water comes back and can be incredibly dangerous.
Florida Division of Emergency Management echo this message on Twitter, warning that returning water could be life threatening.
The massive Category 4 storm made landfall near Cayo Costa, about 90 miles south of Tampa, later Wednesday afternoon.
The lower Tampa Bay area is expected to see a four to six foot storm surge, with extreme beach and water erosion that can extend several miles inland, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm surge will be greater farther south along the coast, with some areas risking a surge of up to 18 feet. Additionally, the hurricane will dump up to five inches of rain per hour as it crosses the state while losing speed and extending the downpour, Graham said.
“It will be a storm that we will talk about for many years,” Graham said.
The water from the storm, not its wind, creates the highest risk to human life, noted Deanne Criswell, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She warned that the dangers of flooding do not end with the passage of the storm.
Only a few inches of white water can wash away a moving vehicle, Criswell said. She urged people to move to higher ground if water rises around them and warned against using a generator indoors due to possible carbon monoxide poisoning .
“Hurricane Ian is and will continue to be a very dangerous and life-threatening storm and it will be for days to come,” Criswell said.