Hurricane Idalia Barrels North as Florida Girds for Disaster

Hurricane Idalia is set to intensify into an “extremely dangerous” major storm, bringing life-threatening winds and floods, as it barrels north toward Florida’s Gulf Coast.

(Bloomberg) — Hurricane Idalia is set to intensify into an “extremely dangerous” major storm, bringing life-threatening winds and floods, as it barrels north toward Florida’s Gulf Coast.  

Idalia is set to make landfall on Wednesday in a broad geographic area that includes Tampa, the National Hurricane Center said in an update at 5 a.m. Eastern time. Its center was located about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of Cuba’s western tip, with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.

It’s forecast to move over the eastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, and blast through northern Florida before nearing the Carolina coastline on Thursday. 

If it reaches forecast Category 3 strength — with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour — Idalia would be the first major hurricane to hit Florida since last September. That’s when Hurricane Ian struck the western part of the state as a Category 4 storm, killing at least 150 people and causing more than $112 billion in damage.

Depending on its exact track, Idalia could cause as much as $10 billion in damage and losses, according to a disaster modeling firm Enki Research. Idalia’s winds could jump by 35 mph or more in a day, a burst of strength that sometimes takes officials and residents by surprise as a storm approaches. 

Parts of Florida, southeast Georgia and the eastern Carolinas are likely to see as much as 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain into Thursday, with up to a foot likely in some isolated areas, the hurricane center said. Western Cuba could see flash flooding and landslides. Storm surge and tides could combine to cause flooding, with the water at Tampa Bay possibly rising as much as 7 feet (2.1 meters) above ground.

Emergency Declaration

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis extended an emergency declaration to cover 46 counties, with mandatory evacuation orders for several on the Gulf Coast. President Joe Biden approved federal emergency declarations for Florida, allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts. Tampa International Airport will close Tuesday. 

“This is going to be a major hurricane, you could have catastrophic storm surge in your area,” DeSantis said. “You could have major impact even if you’re outside the cone, so please plan accordingly.”

The storm on Monday drenched large swathes of Cuba in rain. In Pinar del Rio, the heart of Cuba’s tobacco industry, municipal authorities said they had moved and protected more than 580 tons of tobacco leaves amid “intense rainfall.”

Idalia is expected to stay in the eastern Gulf, away from offshore oil and natural gas production. Most of the key citrus areas in central Florida would not be seriously impacted, World Weather Inc. President Drew Lerner said. Florida is the top orange juice supplier in the US.

However, Idalia may affect agriculture across the South, as well as bring widespread power outages and snarl land and air travel. Utilities said they were moving their crews to respond to potential blackouts caused by the storm. 

Barge traffic moving fuel along the US Gulf Coast to Florida is down, according to Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Fuel Marketers Association. Meanwhile, demand is surging for gasoline as Floridians fill up for possible evacuations as well as for diesel for backup power generation, Bowman said.

To complicate matters, DeSantis said the state has identified 29 gas stations that recently received tainted fuel. Citgo said Sunday it discovered contaminated fuel at its terminal in Tampa, Florida, and has asked marketers to stop sales of the product. DeSantis said the incident likely won’t have a major impact on fuel supply.

Florida is mainly supplied via waterborne shipments from refiners in Texas and Louisiana. The Coast Guard has closed the ports of Tampa, Manatee, St. Petersburg and Fort Myers to incoming traffic in advance of Idalia.

–With assistance from Carolynn Look, Dan Murtaugh, Jim Wyss, Sheela Tobben, Chunzi Xu, Anna Jean Kaiser, Immanual John Milton and Áine Quinn.

(Updates with additional details from third paragraph.)

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