(Bloomberg) -- A slight shift in Hurricane Ian’s track could make all the difference between seawater coursing through the streets of Tampa and a close call for the biggest city on Florida’s exposed western coast.

A strike just north of the mouth of Tampa Bay could push a 10-foot (3-meter) wall of water into the waterway that on a map resembles a lobster with two claws. The damage statewide could be so catastrophic that it surpasses that wreaked by Andrew 30 years ago.

“It is going to be a really bad situation for the Florida Gulf Coast,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of commercial-forecaster Weather Tiger. “I think we are talking about a major hurricane landfall somewhere between the northern end of Tampa Bay and Fort Myers.”

READ: Hurricane Ian Threatens to Overshadow Andrew’s Devastation

Floridians have long feared that a direct hit on Tampa Bay would result in catastrophic flooding in the low-lying, densely populated metropolitan region that has seen exponential development in recent decades. The region hasn’t faced this sort of threat for over a century, when the area was dotted with rural farms and far fewer houses. 

The storm’s ultimate location is key. If Ian strikes further to the south -- Governor Ron DeSantis, for example, has said he’s worried about the seaside town of Venice -- the surge in Tampa may be muted. 

READ: Tampa’s Growing Financial Hub Empties Ahead of Hurricane Ian

A southerly approach would mean Ian’s counter-clockwise winds would actually push some of the water away from land, said Adam Douty, a meteorologist at commercial-forecaster AccuWeather Inc. But a northerly arrival would have the cyclone’s most ferocious winds pushing onto shore.

“If it comes in to the south that is a good thing for Tampa Bay because you won’t get any water piling up in the Bay,” Truchelut said. Wherever Ian hits, one of the biggest impacts “is going to be the surge.”

About half of all deaths from hurricanes come from flooding.

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