Welcome to Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater
Hillsborough County is Florida’s fourth-most-populous county with an estimated 1.37 million people, 377,165 of whom live in Tampa, the county seat. Hillsborough County is part of the rapidly growing Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of 2.9 million. The county, which lies midway along the west coast of Florida, has a total area of just 1,266 square miles, of which 1,020 square miles is land and 246 square miles is water. There are about 158 miles of shoreline on Tampa Bay. The population density of the county is 1,323 people per square mile.
The demographic profile of Hillsborough County is similar to that of the state of Florida, with 51.6 percent white, non-Hispanic; 27 percent Hispanic; 17.7 percent African-American; and 7.3 percent other racial or ethnic groups. There are 486,078 households with 2.64 persons per household, with a median household income of $50,579.
Hillsborough is home to Alafia River State Park and Hillsborough River State Park as well as the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir and Lithia Springs, the largest natural spring in Florida.
Part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area, Pinellas County had an estimated 960,730 people in 2016, with St. Petersburg accounting for 260,999 people, and Clearwater 114,361. St. Petersburg is the largest city, and Clearwater is the county seat. The county lies west of Hillsborough County, with a total area of 608 square miles, of which 274 square miles are land, and 334 square miles are water. The population density of the county is 3,347 people per square mile.
Because of its small size and high population, Pinellas County has been mostly built out, with little land remaining for development. The elevation of the county ranges from sea level to 110 feet at the county’s highest point.
The demographic profile of Pinellas County in 2016 was 83 percent white, non-Hispanic; 9.3 percent Hispanic; 10.9 percent African-American; and 6.1 percent other racial or ethnic groups. There are 402,653 households with 2.27 persons per household, with a median household income of $45,819.
The county maintains a large system of parks and preserves that provide a break from city life and a glimpse into the area’s past. There are 35 miles of beaches and dunes, and 11 barrier islands, which provide habitat for coastal wildlife species and critical storm protection for inland communities.
The Spanish first mapped and explored the Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa area in the early 16th century. Panfilo de Narvaez (1528) and Hernando de Soto (1539) quickly enslaved the Tocobaga Indians. By the time Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821 for $5 million, the Seminoles had replaced the Tocobaga. What would become Pinellas County remained a wilderness except for isolated camps of American and Cuban fishermen. Clear springs gurgled into the bay from the high bluffs where downtown Clearwater now sits.
In 1832, natives drove Count Odet Philippe of France from Florida’s east coast to what was then Safety Harbor, part of what would become Hillsborough County. The Frenchman introduced citrus to the area and brought a few more settlers with him.
On Jan. 25, 1834, the U.S. Legislative Council for the Territory of Florida officially recognized Hillsborough as the territory’s 19th county. Florida became the 27th state on March 3, 1845.
On Jan. 10, 1861, Florida and six other Southern states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. The most famous conflicts in the region were the Battle of Tampa in 1862 and the Battle of Fort Brooke in 1863. With the Confederate defeat in 1865, federal troops occupied Fort Brooke and the city of Tampa until 1869.
With sparse industry and transportation, the bay area suffered in the ensuing years until the discovery in Bone Valley of phosphate, a mineral used in agricultural fertilizer. The discovery lured industry and the railroad, which transported phosphate and cigars, a fledgling industry, to the north.
Meanwhile, several events conspired to dramatically change the area across the bay. First, a report to the American Medical Convention in 1885 proclaimed the Pinellas Peninsula to be “The Healthiest Spot on Earth.” Second, Pyotr Dementyev, a Russian immigrant-turned-entrepreneur, agreed to run his Orange Belt Railroad from Central Florida to developer John Constantine Williams’ 2,500 acres on the southern part of the peninsula. The two men flipped a coin, and Dementyev won, so he named the new town after Russia’s St. Petersburg.
As Clearwater, Largo and other communities on the peninsula grew, so did the clamor for independence from Hillsborough County: After all, a trip to the courthouse in Tampa took the better part of a day. Eventually, the Legislature created Pinellas County on Jan. 1, 1912, with Clearwater as the county seat. Attracted by the balmy climate — the peninsula is always cooler in summer and warmer in winter than Tampa — immigrants began to pour in. Tarpon Springs attracted Greek sponge fishermen and today has a thriving Greek culture. Safety Harbor grew up around its world-famous spa.
Later, airplanes and automobiles enabled even more business development and kick-started tourism.
Tony Jannus, for instance, in 1914 flew his Benoist airplane from St. Pete to Tampa in 23 minutes, skimming across the water at a height of 50 feet. That same year the St. Louis Browns started their annual spring baseball training in St. Pete; the Philadelphia Phillies moved to Clearwater several years later. In 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays settled into permanent residence in downtown St. Pete’s enclosed Tropicana Field.
In 1924, the Gandy Bridge opened — cutting travel time from Tampa to St. Pete by more than half. The area real estate market boomed throughout the 1920s till the bottom fell out with the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.
World War II reinvigorated the Tampa Bay economy. The U.S. Coast Guard established Bayboro Harbor Station as a training base for troops. Air patrols flew nightly anti-submarine hunts over the Gulf of Mexico, and the War Department selected St. Pete as a major technical services training center for the Army Air Corps.
During this time, more than 100,000 trainees filled every hotel in the area, and their families’ struggles to find a place to live created a housing shortage. After the war, many of those trainees and their families settled in the area or returned as tourists.
The advent of air conditioning in the 1950s prompted a mass in-migration of retirees and another housing boom, and the snowbird ebb and flow continues to this day.
State of Florida
Division of Emergency Management 850-815-4000
The Florida Division of Emergency Management plans for and responds to natural and man-made disasters. The division’s sections include Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation. Visit the division’s website for a severe weather awareness guide and other preparedness information.
Hillsborough County Emergency Management
The Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management is responsible for planning and coordinating actions for disaster preparation, response and recovery. The office manages the County Emergency Operations Center; plans and conducts emergency training; and serves as a liaison with state and federal emergency agencies. Visit the office’s website for the county’s disaster planning guide and other disaster preparedness information.
Pinellas County Emergency Management
Pinellas County’s Department of Emergency Management develops and enhances the county’s disaster preparedness and recovery plans for all hazards. Visit the department’s website for the county’s hurricane guide and other disaster preparedness information.
Weather and Climate
The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region has a subtropical to tropical climate with warm, wet weather during the summer and cooler, dry conditions during winter (October through February). Temperatures are pleasant during winter, with highs averaging 75.2 degrees and lows averaging 58 degrees, with a record 18 degrees set Dec. 13, 1962. Given these conditions, it’s no wonder snowbirds fly south.
Summer high temperatures average 85.9 deg-rees, with lows averaging 68.1 degrees accompanied by sweat-inducing high humidity, severe weather, thunderstorms and hurricanes. Annual precipitation averages 44.8 inches, and August is both the wettest and warmest month.
Every second counts in a disaster, so planning and preparation can be lifesavers. Be Ready Florida is Florida’s official emergency preparedness campaign. Be Ready Florida gives residents, communities, public safety professionals, businesses and schools valuable information and resources regarding a variety of emergencies. The website provides information on scheduling workshops to prepare for storms, resource videos about hurricanes, hail and other natural disasters, and a Florida wind insurance savings calculator. For more information about disaster preparedness, visit www.bereadyflorida.org.
The following are considered significant hazards in Florida.
Besides summer thunderstorms and lightning strikes, Florida has hurricanes, and hurricane season lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the greatest threat to life during a hurricane is the storm surge — water hurled toward shore by winds of up to 140 mph. As the storm approaches the shore, the surge combines with normal tides to create massive 13- to 17-foot waves.
Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have designated evacuation zones in areas that are vulnerable to storm surge; signs are posted 13 feet above the ground to show the potential water height. It is important to know your evacuation zone and where to go in case of an evacuation. Both county emergency management departments recommend preparing a survival kit for your family and pets as well as storing important documents in waterproof containers. For the latest shelter and evacuation information, visit https://maps.hillsboroughcounty.org/HEAT/HEAT.html or www.pinellascounty.org (click on “Emergency Information”).
Florida’s reputation as the Sunshine State is well-deserved. It’s easy to end up with painful sunburn, or worse. Even golf, tennis and sightseeing expose you to potentially harmful UV rays. To avoid discomfort and protect yourself from the burning rays, use sunglasses, sunscreens, long-sleeved garments, wide-brimmed hats and an umbrella.
Early summer mornings are the best time to visit the beaches, golf courses and outdoor amusements. By noon, the heat and humidity can become oppressive and the great solar engine over the Gulf of Mexico churns out masses of puffy, white cumulus clouds. By mid-afternoon, huge thunderclouds dominate the western horizon and begin to drift eastward over the Gulf. These eventual storms generate heavy rains accompanied by lightning but pass quickly, and the sun reappears. By dusk, the great solar engine shuts down and the thunderstorms dissipate in time for a spectacular Gulf Coast sunset.
The Tampa Bay area is known as the lightning capital of North America. Nearly every summer, lightning kills or severely injures someone on a local golf course or beach. According to the National Weather Service, a large, enclosed structure is one of the safest places to take cover during a lightning storm. Enclosed metal vehicles are good alternatives. Stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures.
The National Weather Service recommends following the 30/30 Rule — seek shelter if the flash-to-bang delay (time in seconds from the lightning flash to the subsequent thunder) is 30 seconds or less, and remain under cover for 30 minutes after the final clap of thunder. For more safety information, visit www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov or call 813-645-2323.