Photos and video show Tampa Bay empty of water during Hurricane Ian. This is due to a phenomenon called “reverse storm”, experts explain.

After being a dangerous Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday, September 28, Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm after it made landfall in Florida.

As the hurricane neared Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday, viral videos emerged general on Twitter and TikTok showed that the water was apparently being “sucked” out of Tampa Bay rather than rushing into the area and flooding the coast.


Did Hurricane Ian “suck” the water out of Tampa Bay?



Yes, the water from Tampa Bay was “sucked up” by hurricane “Ian”. It’s a phenomenon often called “reverse storm surge,” experts say.


Florida officials have warned people not to venture out into the water in Tampa Bay on Wednesday as Hurricane Ian approaches landfall.

“The water will back up through the storm surge and is life threatening,” the state’s Division of Emergency Management said tweeted.

Also Tampa Bay Police said on Twitter that officers were telling people to leave Bayshore Boulevard, the Tampa Bay waterfront road, “because of people coming to watch or play at low tide.”

More from VERIFY: Hurricane Ian: Fact-checking images and videos showing scenes from the storm

In an email to VERIFY, a spokesperson for NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) confirmed that water retreated from the gulf during Hurricane Ian due to a phenomenon often referred to as “reverse storm surge.” Water levels are monitored by NOAA in Tampa Bay show readings turning negative starting Wednesday morning, which means the water has moved away from the coast.

Water levels in Tampa Bay had mostly returned to normal by Thursday morning, and the area was largely spared the impact of the hurricane.

So what is a reverse storm surge? In simple terms, it’s what it sounds like — the opposite effect of storm surge, or “downsurge,” explained Matthew Bilsky, an engineering professor and hurricane storm surge modeler.

The NHC explains it storm surge it is an “abnormal rise in storm water” above the predicted high tide. It is caused mainly by strong winds during a hurricane or tropical storm and usually occurs where the winds blow on land.

More from VERIFY: No, President Biden did not tell people to get vaccinated before Hurricane Ian.

The reverse storm surge is also determined by the wind direction. According to Bilsky, in the case of Hurricane Ian, the wind moved from the northeast to the southwest, drawing water away from Tampa Bay.

“It causes the water to leave Tampa Bay because the wind is blowing in pretty much the same direction as the exit to the bay,” he said. “The water usually goes where the wind blows in these high wind scenarios like during hurricanes. So if you have sustained wind for a few hours — in this case, probably almost a full day of wind moving in that direction — it’s going to push that water back into the ocean.”

Water also receded from Tampa Bay during Hurricane Irma in 2017, Bilski said. But that doesn’t mean it will always be the case for the region during a major storm.

“I just want people to understand what it is [reverse storm surge] won’t happen every time because the last two storms, Irma and now Ian, have caused it,” he said.

Bilski reiterated that it is not safe for people to stand or walk on the bay if the storm surge returns.

“Once the wind changes direction or dies down, that surge is no longer contained by the ocean from the wind,” he said.

While the water won’t rush back “like a tsunami,” it could return “in just a few short hours” and “certainly catch people off guard,” Bilski added.

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