Hurricane Idalia is gathering force in advance of a landfall on Florida’s west coast, where it could drive a deadly wall of water into the shoreline, snap trees and cause widespread power outages.
(Bloomberg) — Hurricane Idalia is gathering force in advance of a landfall on Florida’s west coast, where it could drive a deadly wall of water into the shoreline, snap trees and cause widespread power outages.
Idalia’s winds topped 85 miles (137 kilometers) per hour Tuesday and are forecast to reach 125 mph, or Category 3 strength, when it comes ashore somewhere in western Florida. Up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) of sea water could be pushed onshore north of Tampa and 7 feet could slosh across Tampa Bay, the US National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. New York time advisory.
The storm’s current track takes it north of heavily populated areas near Tampa and Clearwater, although changes to its path are possible. Landfall will likely be in Appalachee Bay south of Tallahassee Wednesday morning.
A storm surge of 10 to 15 feet could strike along the coast from Aucilla River to Yankeetown, Florida, along with “life-threatening winds” where the core of Idalia hits the coast, Robbie Berg, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, wrote in his forecast.
The storm is currently moving over the extremely warm Loop Current, which will allow it to grow in strength.
“Rapid intensification is expected before landfall, and Idalia is forecast to be a major hurricane when it reaches the Gulf coast of Florida Wednesday morning,” Berg said.
Tampa International Airport is closed Tuesday. According to data from FlightAware, 635 flights in and out of Tampa have been canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Rain should start to spread across Florida and winds will pick up in the Fort Meyers area tonight, said Tyler Roys, a senior meteorologist with commercial forecaster AccuWeather Inc.
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 anywhere from $3 billion to $15 billion in damage and losses because much of the area in its potential path is sparsely populated, while other areas are built up, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. If the storm hits 50 miles south of its current track, it would bring high winds to the Tampa-Clearwater area and push costs much higher.
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. 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.
This would be enough to submerge the approaches to bridges in the Tampa area, said Roys said.
If the storm continues along its current route, Idalia is expected to hit farther west than originally expected in an area known as the Big Bend. That area hasn’t seen a major hurricane since the 1800s, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said during a press conference. As a result, officials said that evacuation orders for Idalia represented about a fifth of the people who were asked to evacuate during Hurricane Ian last year.
“You are going to see a lot of debris,” DeSantis said. “There are a lot of trees along that track. It will knock down trees, it will knock down power lines.”
DeSantis extended an emergency declaration on Monday 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.
Idalia dumped up to four inches of rain and lashed the western part of Cuba with 62-mph winds Monday night, Cuba’s Civil Defense reported. While about 60% of residents in the western Pinar del Rio province were left without electricity, there were no immediate reports of major damage.
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.
After it crosses Florida, Idalia could bring heavy rain and storm surge along the coastline from Georgia to North Carolina, a situation that could be made worse by higher-than-normal tides brought on by Wednesday’s full moon, Roys said.
Barge traffic moving fuel along the US Gulf Coast to Florida is down, Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Fuel Marketers Association, said Monday. Meanwhile, demand is surging for gasoline as Floridians fill up for possible evacuations as well as for diesel for backup power generation, Bowman said.
Tampa and other regional ports are closed to inbound traffic, as is the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Florida is mainly supplied via waterborne shipments from refiners in Texas and Louisiana.
–With assistance from Carolynn Look, Dan Murtaugh, Jim Wyss, Sheela Tobben, Chunzi Xu, Anna Jean Kaiser, Immanual John Milton and Áine Quinn.
(Updates forecast in second paragraph)
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