Tropical Storm Idalia expected to hit Florida as hurricane

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Idalia has formed in the Caribbean and could strengthen into a hurricane, bringing high winds and storm surges to Cuba and Florida later this week.

The storm has sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and could reach Category 2 strength with sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph when it is forecast to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday, according to Governor Ron DeSantis.

The governor said the hurricane could make landfall in northern Florida’s Big Bend area – where the panhandle transitions into the peninsula.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Sunday that the storm is currently near the Yucatan Channel about 80 miles (130 km) east-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico.

Idalia could cause life-threatening storm surge and flooding from heavy rains along parts of Florida’s west coast and the Panhandle as early as Tuesday, the Miami-based weather forecaster said.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 33 Florida counties on Saturday.

“If you are in the path of this storm, you should expect power outages, so please prepare for that,” DeSantis said during a Sunday briefing with Florida’s Division of Emergency Management.

The governor said power company workers would pre-stage ahead of the storm and that 1,100 members of the National Guard were mobilized with 2,400 high-water vehicles and a dozen aircraft for rescue and recovery efforts.

Duke Energy is closely monitoring the approach of Idalia and preparing crews and equipment to respond if customers lose power.

The White House said on Sunday that President Joe Biden had been briefed about Idalia’s forecasted path and will be kept up to date as the storm moves.

(Reporting by Baranjot Kaur in Bengaluru, Maria Caspani in New York, and Katharine Jackson and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)