Idalia intensifies into a major hurricane, threatens Florida with storm surge and winds

Florida is bracing for the impact of Idalia, a powerful hurricane that is expected to make landfall on Wednesday morning near the Big Bend area, north of Tampa. The storm has rapidly intensified in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and could bring life-threatening storm surge, dangerous winds, and heavy rain to parts of the state.

Governor declares state of emergency, urges residents to prepare

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 46 counties on Sunday, as Idalia’s forecast track shifted westward and increased the threat to the Gulf Coast. DeSantis said that Idalia could be a Category 3 or higher hurricane at landfall, with winds of at least 115 mph.

Idalia intensifies into a major hurricane, threatens Florida with storm surge and winds
Idalia intensifies into a major hurricane, threatens Florida with storm surge and winds

“The bottom line is that rapid intensification is becoming increasingly likely before landfall,” the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest advisory.

DeSantis urged residents to be prepared for the storm’s impacts and to heed evacuation orders if issued by local authorities. He said that 1,100 National Guard members have been activated, along with thousands of utility workers to restore power after the storm. He also said that schools in some counties will be closed until at least Thursday.

“If you are in the path of this storm, you should expect power outages,” DeSantis said. “You can’t unring the bell, though, if somebody stays in harm’s way and does battle with Mother Nature. This is not something that you want to do battle with.”

Hurricane and storm surge watches issued for parts of the coast

The NHC issued a hurricane watch from Longboat Key to the Holocene River, including Tampa Bay, meaning that hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours. A tropical storm watch was also issued for parts of the Gulf Coast from Englewood to Chokoloskee and the Dry Tortugas.

A storm surge watch was in effect for much of the coast from Cape Sable to Franklin County, indicating that there is a possibility of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland. The NHC said that coastal areas could see storm surges of up to 11 feet above ground level in some places.

“The risk continues to increase for life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds along portions of the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle beginning as early as late Tuesday,” the NHC said.

The NHC also warned of flash and urban flooding in parts of Florida, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas. Isolated tornadoes are also possible along the coast.

Idalia’s path and timeline: When and where it will hit

Idalia is currently moving northward near Cuba, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. It is expected to strengthen into a hurricane by Monday afternoon and become a major hurricane by Tuesday night.

According to the NHC’s forecast cone, Idalia will approach the west coast of Florida on Wednesday morning, possibly making landfall near the Big Bend area. However, the cone represents the probable track of the center of the storm, not its size or impacts. Therefore, effects could be felt well outside the cone.

The exact timing and location of landfall could change depending on how Idalia interacts with Cuba and a high-pressure system over the Atlantic. The NHC said that there is still uncertainty in the intensity forecast as well.

Idalia is expected to weaken after landfall and move northeastward across Florida and Georgia on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Residents evacuate, volunteers deploy ahead of Idalia

Some residents in low-lying areas, mobile homes, or flood-prone zones have been ordered or advised to evacuate ahead of Idalia’s arrival. Pasco County, north of Tampa, issued a mandatory evacuation for those areas on Monday. Other counties are expected to issue more evacuation orders as the storm gets closer.

Some residents are also stocking up on supplies such as water, food, batteries, and sandbags. David Fuentes, 34, loaded sandbags onto a truck bed in Tampa on Monday.

“I’m just trying to be prepared,” he said. “I don’t want to take any chances.”

Meanwhile, volunteers from various organizations are deploying to Florida to assist with relief efforts. More than a dozen volunteers from the American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region are headed to Florida. They will join hundreds of other Red Cross workers who are already on the ground or on their way.

“We’re going down there to help people who are going through probably one of their worst times,” said volunteer John Cook.

President Joe Biden also spoke to DeSantis on Monday morning, telling him that he had approved an emergency declaration for the state, the White House said. Biden said that the federal government is ready to provide any assistance needed.

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