Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend region on Wednesday morning, was a historic and devastating storm that brought record-breaking storm surge, wind damage and flooding to parts of the state. Idalia was the strongest hurricane to hit the region in more than 125 years, and the first major hurricane to track through Florida’s Apalachee Bay. Here are some of the highlights of Idalia’s impact and aftermath.
Idalia intensified rapidly over the Gulf of Mexico
Idalia was a tropical storm on Tuesday morning, but it quickly strengthened into a powerful Category 4 hurricane by Wednesday morning, as it moved over the exceptionally warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane’s sustained winds increased by a staggering 55 mph in 24 hours, reaching a peak of 130 mph at landfall near Keaton Beach. Idalia was the first hurricane of the 2023 Atlantic season to reach Category 4 strength, and the seventh strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in Florida.
Idalia brought record-breaking storm surge to coastal areas
Idalia’s storm surge was one of the most dangerous aspects of the storm, as it sent water levels rising to unprecedented heights along the coast. More than 8 feet of storm surge inundated Cedar Key, Florida, breaking the previous record of 5.99 feet from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. In Tampa Bay, water levels surpassed 4.5 feet, exceeding the previous record of 3.79 feet from Tropical Storm Eta in 2020. Clearwater Beach also set a new record-high water level at 4.05 feet, surpassing the previous record of 4.02 feet from the 1993 Storm of the Century. The storm surge caused widespread flooding and damage to homes and businesses along the coast, and forced many residents to evacuate or seek higher ground.
Idalia caused widespread wind damage and power outages
Idalia’s powerful winds tore down trees, power lines and roofs across Florida, leaving millions of people without electricity. According to PowerOutage.us, more than 3 million customers were without power in Florida as of Wednesday afternoon, with some areas expected to remain without power for days or weeks. Idalia also spawned several tornadoes in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, adding to the destruction. The hurricane’s winds were so strong that they ripped apart a weather station in Cedar Key, which recorded a gust of 112 mph before it stopped transmitting data.
Idalia continued to pose a threat as it moved inland
Idalia did not weaken much as it moved inland, maintaining hurricane strength as it crossed southern Georgia and reached the coast of South Carolina on Wednesday evening. Idalia brought heavy rain, strong winds and tornadoes to parts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, causing more damage and flooding. Idalia was expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Thursday morning, but still pose a threat of flash flooding and isolated tornadoes as it moved northeastward.
Idalia was a rare and historic storm for Florida
Idalia was a once-in-a-lifetime storm for parts of Florida, especially for the Big Bend region, which had not experienced such a strong hurricane in more than a century. Idalia was also the first major hurricane to track through Florida’s Apalachee Bay, a northern inlet in the Big Bend where the panhandle meets the peninsula. Idalia’s rapid intensification over the Gulf of Mexico was fueled by exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures, which have been linked to climate change. Idalia’s impact will be felt for a long time by the communities that were affected by its wrath.