Florida Faces High Winds, Deadly Surge From Gulf Hurricane

Tropical Storm Idalia threatens to rake Florida’s Gulf Coast with roof-wrecking winds and a life-threatening surge of ocean water as it comes ashore Wednesday.

(Bloomberg) — Tropical Storm Idalia threatens to rake Florida’s Gulf Coast with roof-wrecking winds and a life-threatening surge of ocean water as it comes ashore Wednesday. 

Idalia’s top winds reached 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour Sunday, but are forecast to peak at 100 mph just before it comes ashore, the US National Hurricane Center said in a 5 p.m. New York time forecast. A hurricane watch has been posted from Englewood to Indian Pass, Florida, including Tampa Bay and the storm could start lashing the state as early as Tuesday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has urged residents to prepare and declared an emergency in 33 counties mostly along the state’s Gulf coast.

The state mobilized 1,100 National Guard troops, who will have access to 2,400 high-water vehicles and 12 aircraft that can be used for rescue and recovery, DeSantis said at news conference earlier Sunday. The governor said the majority of emergency resources would be staged in Marion County and parts of north Florida, but warned that hurricane path modeling can be unpredictable and said residents needed to stay vigilant.

In addition to the winds, Idalia is forecast to push ocean water inland and bring as much as 6 inches of rain across Florida’s west coast and the panhandle, the hurricane center said. Some isolated areas could receive 10 inches, leading to flash flooding. 

Idalia’s intensity is difficult to forecast because while it will encounter some wind shear that can tear at its structure and strength, it will also be passing over warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which it can use as fuel, Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist wrote in a forecast analysis. 

“Given the uncertainties, users should monitor future NHC forecasts for possible changes in predicted strength of Idalia, and prepare for possible significant impacts within the hurricane and storm surge watch area,” Pasch said. 

Throughout the day, forecasters have been concerned Idalia could rapidly intensify as it moves over the warm Gulf water. Rapidly intensifying storms may take emergency managers and residents by surprise because their destructive power can explode in strength in a short period of time. 

A year ago, Hurricane Ian had a burst of strength before striking western Florida as a Category 4 storm, killing at least 150 people and causing more than $112 billion in damage, the hurricane center said. 

Active Phase

The Atlantic storm season is well ahead of its historic pace and has entered its most active phase. Idalia would be the 10th storm of the year, including an unnamed system in January, a tally that’s usually reached by Sept. 22, according to the Hurricane Center.

Only six years have produced 10 or more storms by Aug. 27, Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, said in a social media post. Five of them went on to be among the most active years on record, including 2020 that produced 30 storms and 2005 that spun up 28.

Idalia is expected to stay in the eastern Gulf, away from offshore oil and natural gas production. However it may affect agriculture across the South, as well as bring widespread power outages and snarl land and air travel.

The storm is forecast to drop heavy rain across the Yucatan and western Cuba in the next few days before coming north. After it lands in Florida flooding downpours will be likely through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later in the week.

Meanwhile to the east, Hurricane Franklin is gathering strength south-southwest of Bermuda. It’s forecast to develop into a Category 4 hurricane, but isn’t expected to strike land as it moves north through the Atlantic.

–With assistance from Immanual John Milton.

(Updates forecast throughout.)

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