Extensive flooding from Tropical Storm Eta reveals Tampa Bay's vulnerability to larger storms

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has already shattered the record of named storms and there are still two weeks left before it is officially over.

Tampa has not suffered a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921, but Tropical Storm Eta's impacts may have opened some eyes to the area's vulnerability.

While Florida's Central West Coast has been lucky, the region is recognized as one of the most vulnerable across the country -- meaning if the 'big one' made a direct hit, residents could be in significant trouble.

Tropical Storm Eta battered the Tampa Bay area with heavy rain Wednesday during high tide, creating storm surge that swallowed roads and flooded homes and businesses.  

“We are vulnerable really based on our geography, we have a significant coastal footprint, we know that our topography is not significantly above, in many area, above mean sea level,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

MORE: Eta floods Davis Islands, South Tampa roads

According to experts, the Tampa Bay region is not prepared for extreme weather. In the future, the storms will be worse, so it is critical we are proactive.

“Hurricanes are more powerful, gulf waters are warming, the frequency of storms is more often more frequent, and the time to prepare is now,” Sullivan said.

Because if you think Eta caused havoc, a direct hit from a Category 3 hurricane would put most of the area underwater.

“Our transportation network would suffer significantly, if not be severely destroyed creating a hardship on our economy,” said Sullivan.

A resiliency study the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Commission took part in found it could cost $4.7-billion to fortify Tampa Bay’s most important roads from flooding.

RELATED: Firefighters help Redington Beach woman, 2 dogs escape out window as Eta floods home

“We estimate that 40% of small businesses would close down and never reopen, which is really catastrophic,” Sullivan added.

In another simulation, a worst-case scenario Category 5 hurricane would cause so much devastation and flatten so many structures, that recovery could take a decade.

“It would cripple our economy, and it would cripple the region,” said Sullivan.

That is why the agency says making a plan and investing now is better than waiting for a hurricane to do damage. It will take action from property owners, business owners and our local governments to reduce our region’s vulnerability.

“The call to work together to do something couldn’t be more important now than ever, and we look forward to that challenge,” Sullivan said.

31 Bay Area governments and more than 90 private businesses are now part of the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition. The group has been working to come up with solutions to harden the area against a major hurricane. They hope to have a plan to release by next October.