The county’s Emergency Management updated the zones, adding that it’s all based on the latest storm surge data models from the National Hurricane Center, along with more accurate elevation data. The changes impact about 93,000 residents.
Thousands of people got cards in the mail with the message "Your evacuation zone has changed," and officials said Pinellas residents need to know what their new zone is. Officials say knowing your evacuation zone is one of the most important steps in preparing for hurricane season.
"We had about 66,000 people who have an increased risk and about 27,000 actually had a decreased risk. So that means they went from a higher zone to a lower zone," said Cathie Perkins, the director of Pinellas County Emergency Management. "We do have about 4,700 people that were in a non-evacuation zone before. Now they are in an evacuation zone."
It’s just for evacuations, which are different from flood maps, and the maps shifted to higher risk spots in several areas including Tarpon Springs and Gulfport, and neighborhoods in McKay's creek and Allen's creek.
Perkins explained the change is happening now, so the National Hurricane Center updates their storm surge model. She said every four years they take that data and look at elevation data for the county. That's what helped emergency management officials determine which areas could be at high risk or at lower risk for storm surge.
Climate change and National Hurricane Center reports show the storm surge impact to neighborhoods.
"So we use all sorts of data. We look at a lot of different factors to kind of figure out where the risks are," said Perkins "And interestingly enough, when we had Tropical Storm Eta, the storm surge for that was actually very similar to one of the future models for sea level rise."
Forecasters are keeping an eye on how many storms are coming. The National Weather Service in Tampa Bay said now is the time to check your supplies or stock up.
"Right now, from what we kind of do see out there, kind of looks like maybe some potential for an above normal activity type of season," said Tony Hurt, a meteorologist at NWS in Ruskin. "As far as the public and their interests and what they want to pay attention to, it's a good thing to always keep an eye out on the tropics, check in on the weather at least a couple of times a week to make sure there's nothing out there that's threatening."
Pinellas EMA said that every storm is different, so they are stressing how important it is for people to have a plan and know their evacuation zone. Once you know your risk, you can make a plan for what you and your family will do if Pinellas County is in the cone of uncertainty.
County officials say residents can check their evacuation zone by heading to storm.pinellascounty.org or calling 727-453-3150 from landlines only.