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TPA prepares for 2023 hurricane season with lessons from last year

Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole have helped Airport planners further improve robust readiness plans. Learn about those insights and gain valuable travel tips to help you avoid issues this summer.

TPA Ian storm prep 1

After last year’s near miss with Hurricane Ian, Tampa International Airport has been working hard to be ready for the 2023 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

TPA learned a lot of lessons after closing last September ahead of Ian, which had been predicted to hit Tampa Bay. The storm’s last-minute landfall in Fort Myers highlights the importance of preparing for the worst.

“The unpredictable nature of storms is something we recognize as a risk and our goal is to always err on the side of caution and safety,” TPA Vice President of Operations Adam Bouchard said. “Shifts in storms at the very last moment can have devastating consequences, and we strive to always be prepared for the worst.”

TPA Ian storm prep 3TPA prioritizes the safety of its employees, partners and passengers when preparing for any storm, Bouchard said. Preserving the facilities and preparing to reopen as quickly as possible also are key considerations.

And as Ian showed, TPA’s quick reopening enabled the Airport to restore the safe movement of passengers and cargo, and assist with getting aid to affected communities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a near-average season this year, predicting between 12 to 17 named storms and 5 to 9 hurricanes, with 1 to 4 of those being Category 3 or higher.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which runs TPA and Hillsborough County’s three publicly-owned general aviation airports, monitors any storms that may be a threat, with preparations starting long before the region ends up in in the cone of uncertainty.

Airport staff discuss potential conditions and how to respond as situations evolve. The Authority also works closely with NOAA, Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Safety Administration and other Airport partners to coordinate efforts.

“There is a lot of work that goes into deciding whether to suspend operations and preserve TPA so that we can reopen quickly, in scenarios where we have to close,” Bouchard said.

Key factors in those decisions include when sustained winds reach 50 m.p.h., because aircraft and critical Airport systems cannot function. Depending on the weather event and its timing, a suspension time has to be identified well before these stronger winds arrive to allow time to not only secure the Airport infrastructure that could be damaged by strong winds, but ensure passengers and employees have time to get home and even evacuate if necessary.

TPA Ian storm prep 2Damage potential also must be assessed. TPA has a complex and effective drainage system that runs throughout the grounds, designed to keep water off runways, taxiways and airfield facilities. While heavy rain or storm surge may temporarily flood the airfield to an extent, it is designed to drain expediently to resume normal operations. However, with extreme inundation, as could occur with a major hurricane, getting water to recede quickly may take time.

Planning also includes deciding whether it’s safe to stay open. TPA elected to remain open during Tropical Storm Nicole in November. Aside from some delays and cancelations, the Airport was able to operate safely and efficiently during and after that storm.

And while summer months can include some inconvenient changes to air travel plans, there are some steps you can take. Here are some tips to help you during storm-prone months:

CHECK THE FORECAST: Before you head to the Airport, be sure to look up the weather not just on the day you’re flying, but during the course of your trip (both here and at your destination). That will give you an idea if any problems may arise, and whether you’ll be in the potential path of a storm. 

CALL YOUR AIRLINE: If it looks like your flight may be affected, call your carrier ahead of time. They will be able to give you the latest information about how conditions are affecting your route. Be aware if your airline has an app or online chat feature, which are often faster than using the phone when hundreds of people are looking to be rebooked.

BE AN EARLY BIRD: Hurricane season also marks the return of normal stormy weather in the Tampa Bay region. These sometimes heavy thunderstorms tend to kick in during the afternoon and can cause delays and cancellations. If you want to avoid them, try to schedule your flights earlier in the morning, before the rains really kick in.

MAKE A PLAN: If there are potential delays or cancellations on the horizon, have a plan in place for family, pets, property and more in case you can’t easily get where you want to be. Considering what you may do in such circumstances should be part of revisiting your emergency plan  each season. In the event of a closure, the Airport is not equipped to serve as a public shelter, so please don’t bring your pets and cars on-site to stay safe from a storm. Information about emergency shelters, evacuation zones, storm preparation and more is available from the Hillsborough County government’s storm safety webpage. TPA Police Officers and Guest Services Representatives will help direct travelers who need shelter to the nearest open locations as well as other county resources. 

CHECK TWITTER: If a tropical storm or hurricane threatens TPA in any way, the Airport will share the latest information on its Twitter account at twitter.com/FlyTPA – updates will also be posted at TampaAirport.com.

BE PATIENT: Nobody likes it when foul weather ruins travel plans, so try not to take it out on others. Airline and Airport staff want to help, but please remember that they are trying to help everyone else, too. Visit our Information Desk on the third floor of the Main Terminal to learn about helpful amenities like our Traveler’s Aid station, where our pet relief areas are located and to learn more about our expansive shopping and dining locations.

TPA Preps for Hurricane Ian from Tampa International Airport on Vimeo.