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Idalia is now a hurricane moving toward Florida with strong winds and a life-threatening storm surge


Hurricane Idalia is expected to intensify significantly as it moves toward Florida, where officials have already told people to flee, closed schools, and shut down a major airport ahead of a predicted landfall Wednesday along the Gulf Coast.

With strong winds and a life-threatening storm surge, the hurricane is likely to strike at a Category 3 magnitude, and millions of people are under storm warnings as Idalia may set a precedent as the first major hurricane in at least 172 years to hit Apalachee Bay in a sparsely populated area will reach. populated Big Bend region, according to the National Hurricane Center and its Tallahassee office.

The National Guard is on call and evacuations are underway as the storm could deliver a devastating blow to parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast. It is expected to make landfall well north of Tampa, though a slight shift in trajectory could put that vulnerable population center more at risk.

Urban search and rescue teams are on standby from the Federal Emergency Management Agency while the Army Corps of Engineers will support power generation missions, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told CNN This Morning on Tuesday.

Beware of flood risks and follow evacuation orders, she told those on the trail, as state and local officials reminded residents that they often don’t have to travel far — tens of miles instead of hundreds — to reach higher, safer places. area to reach.

“The number one cause of death in all of these storms is water, whether it be the storm surge that will happen on the coast or the excessive rainfall that could happen inland causing flash flooding in the cities,” Criswell said.

Before landfall, Idalia could spawn a few tornadoes along the west coast of central Florida on Tuesday and north into Big Bend by Tuesday evening.

A storm surge — when a storm’s winds push the ocean ashore — could force water up to 10 feet in parts of northern Florida, with “the deepest water … along the immediate coast in areas with land winds, where the surge paired will go with big and dangerous waves,” the hurricane center warned.

Heavy rains could cause flash flooding in parts of Florida’s west coast, Panhandle, and South Georgia Tuesday through Wednesday, spreading to parts of the eastern Carolinas Wednesday through Thursday. Four to eight inches of rain may fall in those places from Tuesday to Thursday, flooding the streets.

“This is going to be a major hurricane,” Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Monday.

Idalia was a Category 1 storm at 8 a.m. Tuesday, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, moving north at 14 mph, about 320 miles southwest of Tampa, the hurricane center said.

As the storm made its way into Florida, preparations could be seen across the state. Here’s the latest:

  • Close airports: Tampa International Airport on Tuesday suspended all commercial activities until it can assess any damage, it announced. The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport Terminal building will close on Tuesday afternoon. Major airlines have canceled more than 300 flights so far.
  • Evacuations in at least 22 counties: Baker, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia and Wakulla counties have all issued evacuation orders, some of which are mandatory.
  • Closing Schools: 32 school districts in the county have closed, as well as colleges and universities, including Florida State University, the University of Florida, and Florida A&M University.
  • State of emergency declared: DeSantis extended a state of emergency to 46 of Florida’s 67 counties Monday morning. Several local jurisdictions have also declared a state of emergency.
  • Florida National Guard activated: More than 5,000 National Guard members were activated to help respond to the storm.
  • US Navy ships begin to depart: Navy ships have begun to leave Florida ahead of landfall at Idalia, the Navy said Monday.
  • Power outage expected: DeSantis told residents to prepare for a power outage. “If you are in the path of the storm, you can expect power outages, so please prepare for that,” the governor told residents on Sunday.
  • Hospital System Suspension of Services: Patients are transferred from at least three hospitals: HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital, HCA Florida Trinity West Hospital, and HCA Florida West Tampa Hospital.

“We want everyone to take this storm seriously,” Barbara Tripp, chief of the Tampa Fire Department, said at a news conference. She added that residents should also clear debris from their properties and look out for neighbors who may need help.

“Once the wind reaches a certain mph, Tampa Fire Rescue will be unable to respond,” Tripp warned.

With the storm expected to strengthen quickly as it passes through the Gulf of Mexico, it will tap into some of the warmest waters in the world before making landfall in Florida. If so, it would join a growing list of destructive storms like the monstrous Hurricane Ian — which flattened the Florida coast and left more than a hundred dead — to rapidly intensify before the storm hit in recent years. country came.

Idalia posed a “notable risk” to this phenomenon, the National Hurricane Center warned Monday, as it travels through the Gulf of Mexico.

Water temperatures around southern Florida have soared as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas this summer, and temperatures in the Gulf have been record-warm overall, with more than enough heat to support rapid strengthening.

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Storm surge will be ‘life-threatening
Deadly storm surges of up to 12 feet are possible in Florida’s Big Bend, a danger that will only be exacerbated by waves whipped up by hurricane-force winds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Storm surge is responsible for nearly half of all hurricane-related fatalities, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is the reason behind most storm evacuations.

Cedar Key could be cut off by the high storm surge, said Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

“I’m mostly worried about them,” Rhome said during a briefing on Facebook Live. “If you are watching from Cedar Key, it is imperative that you take this very seriously and if you are ordered to evacuate, immediately comply with those evacuations. Under such conditions, the entire island could be completely cut off.”

Evacuation orders are in effect along the coast due to the expected storm surge, Rhome emphasizes.

Dangerous flooding and heavy rainfall can also occur inland from Idalia. Risks associated with heavy rains could also extend as far as 100 miles from where the storm center is located, Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a senior researcher at Columbia University’s Climate School, warned.

“This is something that we’re seeing more and more, and this is related to climate change, as we see wetter tropical cyclones and wetter hurricanes,” he told CNN. “So we need to pay more attention to the risks associated with heavy rainfall, especially in areas far from the coastline.”

Officials reminded residents under evacuation orders on Tuesday that they “don’t have to evacuate hundreds of miles.”

“We are talking about tens of kilometers. Just go to higher ground, go to a friend’s house, go to a hotel, go to a shelter,” said Brian Aungst, mayor of Clearwater in Pinellas County, parts of which are under a mandatory evacuation order.

Those who do not heed the order to leave should take shelter on the spot, said St. Petersburg police chief Anthony Holloway, where some residents are advised to leave.

“You stay on your own until the weather subsides, and then we can come back out and rescue you,” he said.

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