Tropical Storm Idalia is strengthening quickly as it churns toward Florida and could become a dangerous Category 3 storm as it approaches the coast with a mix of heavy rains, high winds and damaging storm surge.
Idalia is expected to intensify into a hurricane Monday and make landfall on Wednesday morning near the Big Bend of Florida as a dangerous major hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.
As the storm intensifies, “life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds” are “becoming increasingly likely for portions of Florida,” the hurricane center said early Monday.
The storm’s expected arrival has prompted Florida to deploy swift water rescue teams as local officials called for evacuations, announced school closures and warned residents to prepare their property.
The storm is about 125 miles off the western tip of Cuba, whipping up maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, the hurricane center said in a 5 a.m. update.
Follow Idalia’s track here.
“Idalia has been moving erratically and is nearly stationary,” the hurricane center added. “A motion toward the north-northeast and north is expected to begin later today, bringing the center of Idalia over the extreme southeastern Gulf of Mexico by tonight.”
Along Florida’s Gulf Coast, a hurricane watch has been issued from Englewood to India Pass, including Tampa Bay, according to the hurricane center. A tropical storm warning is also in place for the Dry Tortugas, Florida, while a tropical storm watch has been issued for the Lower Florida Keys west of the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge.
“It should be emphasized that only a small deviation in the track could cause a big change in Idalia’s landfall location in Florida due to the paralleling track to the west coast of the state,” the hurricane center noted.
Tropical storm conditions are possible in the Dry Tortugas beginning late Monday and along the Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management urged people under a storm surge threat to have evacuation plans set, in case an evacuation order is issued.
“Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane,” the agency warned. “It happens quickly and can endanger you, your family & your home.”
With Idalia’s current forecast track, western Cuba is expected see hurricane conditions by late Monday, with winds possibly reaching tropical storm strength by Monday morning. The government of Cuba has upgraded the tropical storm warning for Pinar del Rio to a hurricane warning.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the hurricane center said.
As the storm approaches, the Tampa Bay area is forecast to see a storm surge of 4 to 7 feet above normal tidal levels. The highest storm surge is expected to occur in the Big Bend area of Florida, where ocean levels could top 10 feet above the normal tide.
When rising waters move inland from the shoreline, normally dry areas near the coast could become flooded, according to the hurricane center.
Scattered flash and urban flooding is also expected across parts of the west coast of Florida, the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia as Tropical Storm Idalia drops heavy rainfall from 3 to 6 inches with isolated amounts up to 10 inches from Tuesday into Wednesday.
Heavy rainfall could also lead to flash flooding across portions of the Carolinas Wednesday into Thursday.
Western Cuba could also see 3 to 6 inches of rain with isolated amounts up to 10 inches.
Florida preparing for Idalia
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians Sunday to “just heed the warnings of your local officials” as the state braces for Idalia’s arrival.
“Our emergency operations center here in Tallahassee will go to a Level 1, 24-hour around the clock,” starting at 7 a.m. ET Monday, DeSantis said.
In preparation, 1,100 National Guardsmen have been mobilized with high-water vehicles and aircraft for rescue and recovery efforts, DeSantis said. The Florida Highway Patrol also has 300 troopers ready to deploy.
Power companies will also start staging personnel on Monday, according to the governor.
“If you are in the path of the storm, you should expect power outages so please prepare for that,” the governor told residents.
Hillsborough County, where the city of Tampa is located, has declared a state of local emergency ahead of possible impacts from Idalia.
A state of emergency was also declared Sunday for Citrus County, where schools will have a half day schedule Monday and close Tuesday and Wednesday.
“All citizens and businesses of Citrus County should be preparing for storm impacts – residents living in campers, recreational vehicles, tents, other structures unable to withstand the winds of a tropical storm, or along the west side of U.S. Hwy 19 are advised to voluntarily evacuate,” the county said.
Hernando County Schools will also be closed Monday through Wednesday because of Idalia, according to the Florida Department of Education.
Voluntary evacuations were issued Sunday for some areas of Hernando County Sunday. “All residents living in coastal and low-lying areas, as well as manufactured homes county wide, are included,” the county said in a post on Facebook.