Photos of an otherworldly landscape that is typically submerged went viral Wednesday as Hurricane Ian seemingly sucked the water out of Apalachee, Ochlockonee and Tampa bays.
Floridians could walk on what should be water as the hurricane pulled the ocean from the shore.
"The fact that all the water disappears from #tampabay before the storm comes is mind blowing," said Tammy Young on Twitter.
The fact that all the water disappears from #tampabay before the storm comes is mind blowing. #hurricaneian
The phenomenon, called a blowout tide or a reverse storm surge, is an indicator that a hurricane is on its way.🌹👁🌹🙏🏽💯😊👏🏾 #floridahurricane pic.twitter.com/x2ow3ocZIv
— Mccanttammy (@mccanttammy) September 28, 2022
The phenomena is called a "reverse storm surge." Storm surge is wind-driven, said David Zierden, the state climatologist with Florida State University's Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies.
The winds from Hurricane Ian have pushed water onto the coast and into the beach and estuary areas in southwest Florida causing widespread devastation.
But from Tampa and as far north as St. Marks, the wind pushed water offshore, which led to receding tides.
The phenomena was seen throughout the west coast of Florida, and as of 11 a.m. on Thursday, the tide in Apalachicola was still 3 feet below normal, tweeted Zierden.
Tides still running nearly three feet BELOW normal at Apalachicola.... pic.twitter.com/bZgJEhiWWf
— David Zierden (@FLClimateCenter) September 29, 2022
'A little bit creepy'
The bridge that connects Wakulla and Franklin counties spanned across a waterless Ochlockonee Bay. The usually waving submerged sea grass was limply clumped throughout drained stretches of the Wakulla River.
Donna Bourgeois, the day manager at Angelo & Son's Seafood Restaurant, said she's never seen the tide so low. She's worked at Angelo's for 30 years.
"It was just like a bathtub let the water out," she said. "Just, it was gone."
The tide started to come back in around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and it was coming in fast.
Bourgeois has been through multiple hurricanes, including Hurricane Dennis in 2005. That storm destroyed Angelo's, which was rebuilt in 2007. She said she knows never to underestimate a storm.
"Everybody was expecting (Ian) to come up through here, but thank God it didn't," she said. "God bless them people."
In St. Marks, Kathleen Spehar snapped this photo near the iconic lighthouse that shows flattened sea grass in what is usually the muddy shallows of the wildlife refuge.
"If the sea became a desert, what would it be like? That was the feeling of being out there," she said. "It was beautiful, blue clouds, yet desolate."
Thursday morning there were crabs scurrying about on the sea bed that would normally be covered by water. It took her about 10 minutes to walk out to the new shoreline, several hundred feet from the beach.
"It was a little bit creepy that the storm was so powerful that it could suck up and dry out that entire bay area," she said.
Zierden said Florida saw reverse storm surge during Hurricane Irma, but it's not only caused by hurricanes.
Reverse storm surge can happen during cold fronts, too.
There's a misconception that the water will return rapidly in areas that aren't affected by the hurricane.
"It's not the same kind of dynamics as a tsunami," he said. "For what we experienced in Tampa, through the Big Bend and Apalachicola, it wasn't going to return that quickly."
As of late Thursday morning, water was slowly returning to what is usually the Apalachee Bay shoreline.
Ian's size becomes a big draw
The size of the hurricane and the extent of the wind field is what caused the tides to recede so far up north and subsequently push a wall of water into the southwest Florida coastline, uprooting homes and flood neighborhoods.
"The footage of the storm surge actually pushing through the streets in Fort Myers and areas of southwest Florida was really dramatic," he said.
Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday afternoon with sustained winds of 150 mph over Cayo Costa, Florida — just 7 mph shy of a Category 5 storm, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.
Now Ian is headed to the Atlantic and is expected to hit South Carolina later this week.
Meteorologists with the National Hurricane Center said Ian will roll off of Florida's east coast, turn northwest and might strengthen to hurricane status again before making landfall again in South Carolina. The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia all preemptively declared states of emergency.
"State agencies are working together and preparing for Hurricane Ian's potential impact," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said on Twitter. "Each South Carolinian should do the same – take the time now to make a plan for every contingency."
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Hurricane Ian: Reverse storm surge hits St. Marks' Apalachee, Tampa Bay