The outer bands of Hurricane Wilma grazed the Tampa Bay area and many communities near the University.
By Monday afternoon, residents of Hillsborough County were greeted with cool weather and blue skies. It was as though the hurricane hadn’t occurred at all.
This was not the case for Tampa’s neighbors to the south. While the Bay area was left relatively unscathed, cities such as Naples and Fort Myers bore the brunt of the storm.
Nearly six million Floridians lost and are still without power due to Wilma, and according to the Associated Press at least six deaths have been attributed to the storm. It will take time before the economic impact of Wilma is fully realized, but early estimates put damages at anywhere between $2 billion to $10 billion.
Early Sunday afternoon, after multiple conference calls, USF canceled Monday classes in anticipation of strong winds and heavy rain.Michelle Carlyon, director of Media Relations at USF, knows the University and the Bay area dodged a bullet.
“Our thoughts go out to our friends and neighbors to the south affected by Hurricane Wilma,” Carlyon said. “The University of South Florida system was very lucky to make it through the storm with very minimal damage, if any at all. We want to thank all those who continued to work through the storm to make sure the University (was) up and running when faculty, staff and students returned to campus.”
News of USF’s closure came at approximately 1:30 p.m. Sunday, following the decision by the School District of Hillsborough County to close schools on Monday.
Given the threat of sizeable damage and the inability of meteorology to pinpoint where a hurricane will make landfall, many saw school closures as a necessity.
“I thought it was necessary, because what if we had a repeat of Katrina but in Florida?” said Nicholas Wright, an industrial engineering major. “I think they should have come to a decision on whether to close schools earlier; a lot of people in Polk and Pinellas counties knew a lot earlier. With so many commuter students, I think we need a better jump on what is going to happen.”
While most projected paths had the storm-making landfall near Naples, the hurricane’s probability cone showed possible landfall as far north as Manatee County.
The slow-moving storm, the eighth to make landfall in Florida in 14 months, gave residents of the state’s Gulf Coast ample time to prepare for the worst. However, following its turn off the coast of Mexico, the tortoise of a storm quickly became a hare.
Wilma moved across Florida at an incredible pace, spending only seven hours over the state. At the time of press, Wilma was moving northeast across the Atlantic at 52 mph.