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Article By: Asa Royal

TAMPA — On the first day of hurricane season, Tampa International Airport was recognized Thursday as the first airport in Florida to earn the “StormReady” designation from the National Weather Service.

The weather service awards the StormReady designation to communities and institutions, recognizing them for taking precautions and designing procedures to save life and property during severe weather.

In short, weather service meteorologist Brian LaMarre said, it means the airport is ready in case a major storm strikes the region. He said the airport’s recognition is timely, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recently predicted an above-average Atlantic storm season.

“We are expecting what’s called an above-normal year with up to 14 major storms,” LaMarre said, “three of which might transform into major hurricanes.”

To achieve that designation, there are strict prerequisites: the formation of hazardous weather plans for scenarios such as hurricanes, thunderstorms and flash floods; the establishment of a 24-hour emergency operations center; the installation of a local weather monitoring system; creating multiple communications channels to receive severe weather warnings and alert the community; and promoting storm-readiness in the surrounding community.

If a hurricane were to head for Tampa International, its StormReady plan calls for airport officials to contact airlines to reroute flights and close airsides before the storm strikes. For those trapped inside the airport, personnel would get them away from the windows and into a secure location to ride out the storm.

Tampa International spent about three years meeting those requirements, LaMarre said. The infrastructure and emergency protocols were developed as the airport undergoes a $2.3 billion expansion and renovation project. In April, airport officials unveiled what the $543 million second phase will look like, adding express curbside for drop-off passengers without checked bags and building a commercial development on top of 17 acres that will see two new hotels, offices and retail space added to the airport footprint.