A Myth That a Blessing Was Placed on Tampa Bay, Keeps Hillsborough and Pinellas Safe From Direct Hurricane Impact
Once you have lived in Tampa Bay long enough you will get used to hurricane seasons. Every few hurricane seasons Tampa will be in the path of one or more major hurricanes.
Then you panic and do 'all the things' (you are supposed to do to prepare).
During your first 'Tampa is going to be hit directly by a major hurricane' alert is when you learn about "The Legend."
A co-worker or a neighbor will tell you with a knowingly smirk, "Oh Tampa will never get hit by a hurricane because it was blessed by Native Indians a hundred years ago."
"Proof" of "The Legend"
"The Legend" was told to me by my co-workers when I moved to Tampa Bay, specifically, St. Pete back in 2004. I, of course, listened to my co-workers' loose explanations of this 'blessing' out of courtesy. I was young and single, but not naive!
I was just learning the Tampa Bay area and had to live through the panic of the worst year for hurricanes in Florida. I was not going to depend on "The Legend" when a young (and back then very tan) Dennis Philipps was reporting that we need to evacuate.
In 2004 Florida got hit by four hurricanes in six weeks: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.
Hurricane Charley was supposed to devastate Tampa Bay. The most trusted spaghetti models predicted that Charley, which was a fast-moving storm was going to make landfall in Tampa and destroy everything in its path.
It was my first "Tampa Hurricane." I grew up in Hawaii and lived through a hurricane as a young child there. I also lived through a hurricane in Pensacola, Florida when I was in college. Both times I hunkered down with my parents.
So as a new Tampanian, I left my St. Pete apartment and drove my ass up to Pensacola where my parents are retired.
Many of my friends and neighbors either hunkered down in Tampa, (believing "The Legend") or drove to Orlando.
Tampanians were bracing for Charley's big hit. We watched the storm touch the warm gulf water and make an abrupt turn southwest, devastating Punta Gorda and even causing havoc in Orlando. I remember my friend's account of being terrified in an Orlando hotel room during the storm.
I also remember thinking to myself, "Damn I could've saved myself this eight-hour drive. My co-workers were right!"
The same thing happened with Hurricane Ian. Although the path was almost identical, Ian was a slow-moving storm so the surprising move southwest wasn't so "last-minute" as Charley was. Orlando also didn't get as much of an impact as it did with Charley.
Fast forward to 2017. I was married with kids and we just bought and moved into our 3rd home in Westchase (where I figured I'd spend the rest of my Tampa Bay days) when the news that Tampa was in Hurricane Irma's path.
This time I wasn't too worried. I sort of believed the legend after the whole Charley thing 13 years earlier. I even tried to calm the nerves of two neighbors, new to Tampa, who also moved onto my street in 2017.
Yes, I had the knowingly smirk and repeated what I heard about "The Legend" to them.
My husband and I still secured our home and prepped the pool and patio furniture for a major storm. Our side of the neighborhood was on the same power grid as Twin Branch Acres (an older electrical grid) and we lost power more often than my friends just a few doors down during light storms.
We knew we would be out of power from the winds for a few days even if we weren't hit by Hurricane Irma. So my family drove up to Pensacola so we wouldn't have to live without air conditioning!
Irma was another example of a storm that was supposed to devastate Tampa, but it didn't. Many were without power. Many areas flooded, but Tampa was not directly in the eye of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
It was like deja vu to see new Tampanians amazed by Tampa Bay bodies of water being emptied by the storm yesterday. In 2017 there were people walking in the bay on Bayshore Boulevard as well.
My next-door neighbor in Westchase let us know when the power was back and we drove back to Tampa and to a perfectly intact home.
Of course, I mentioned to my two new friends, "I guess the legend is true!"
What's funny is one of those friends sent me a DM on Instagram yesterday reminding me of how I told them about "The Legend."
This friend recently sold her home in Westchase and moved to Safety Harbor, Florida (only 10 minutes away) of all places!
What is "The Legend" Exactly?
"The Legend" is told in a few different ways. First, it might be fitting to talk about Safety Harbor. Safety Harbor is where my brother lives. My brother lives in an "A" evacuation zone (he has a slight water view) and he did not evacuate. I wasn't happy about it, but I'm ashamed to say we kind of believe "The Legend." At least he responsibly had my niece and nephew along with my daughter go stay with his ex-wife in Seminole Heights.
My brother once told me that as a part of "The Legend" Safety Harbor is named Safety because the Native Americans "blessed" the area. So I looked deeper into this loose story.
Safety Harbor is the present-day name of the head of Old Tampa Bay. This was the area that the Tocobaga Nation ruled from.
According to the Safety Harbor Chamber Website:
Tocobaga (also Tocopaca) was the name of a chiefdom, its chief and its principal town during the 16th century in the area of Tampa Bay. The town is believed to have been at the Safety Harbor Site. The name Tocobaga is also often applied to all of the people who lived around Tampa Bay during the first Spanish colonial period (1513-1763), but Spanish accounts name other chiefdoms around Tampa Bay.
The Tocobaga Indians are the natives that supposedly blessed Tampa Bay. "The Legend" is sometimes told that Tampa Bay is the home to Tocobagan Indian mounds that have been found between Safety Harbor, their ancestral home, and the Gandy area, a 15-mile stretch along the bay in Pinellas County. Some Tampanians say the mounds are what keeps the hurricanes away. Source: Washington Post
Some say natives blessed the area after the last hurricane in 1921, that technically hit Tarpon Springs as a Category 3. They say the Natives' blessing says, "Tampa will never get hit by a devastating hurricane again."
Stay Safe, Tampa
Tampa Bay dodged Ian's wrath which ravaged our southern neighbors. Tampa still endured tropical storm winds, which we usually do during Florida hurricanes. "The Legend" doesn't mean we should be having hurricane parties and not be prepared.
Tampa is an extremely vulnerable area to tropical storms as we are surrounded by water. So, a hurricane would be devastating.
Today, the day after the hurricane it is imperative that if you have no business being out and about you should stay at home. Downed power lines and trees, as well as flooded roads, are super dangerous. So, don't take it lightly.
Let's look out for our neighboring cities that are still in Ian's path and for those who got a direct hit.
Let's be grateful that whether "The Legend" is true or not, Tampa again was spared.