Hurricane Idalia is rapidly intensifying Tuesday as it moves over record-warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm will bring “catastrophic impacts from storm surge inundation” into Florida’s Big Bend, with a “life threatening” surge southward to Tampa Bay, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns.
Idalia was expected to strike Florida’s Gulf coast on Wednesday as an “extremely dangerous” major Category 3 storm.
According to the NWS forecast office in Tallahassee, no storm since reliable records began in 1851 has tracked right into Apalachee Bay, as Idalia is forecast to do.
The shape of this region’s coastline and shallow continental shelf offshore makes it a storm surge magnifier, with the NWS warning of “potentially devastating” storm surge impacts.
“There are NO major hurricanes in the historical dataset going back to 1851 that have tracked into Apalachee Bay. None,” the NWS Tallahassee office wrote in a forecast discussion. “Don`t mess around with this.”
At 2pm ET, the hurricane was located 240 miles south-southwest of Tampa, Florida, and was moving to the north by nearly 15 mph, the NHC said in an update.
It said satellite images indicated that Idalia continues to strengthen, with maximum sustained winds increasing to nearly 90 mph, with higher gusts.
Hurricane-force winds were also recorded up to 15 miles from Idalia’s center, while tropical storm winds extended outward by up to 160 miles.
Hurricane forecasters are forecasting the storm to leap from a Category 1 storm to Category 3 between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, with landfall expected during the day on Wednesday.
President Biden approved the state’s emergency request and pledged federal disaster relief assistance during a phone call with Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday.
DeSantis warned Tuesday that residents in Idalia’s path should expect to lose power and said the state has so far staged 25,000 lineworkers to help restore power after the storm.
Tampa International Airport is closed Tuesday in advance of the storm. Tampa-area counties began carrying out evacuations on Monday.
Idalia is expected to make landfall somewhere between Tampa and Tallahassee on Wednesday, but high winds and storm surge flooding are likely to begin in these areas as early as Tuesday evening.
Evacuation orders issued
More than 20 counties in western and central Florida have issued evacuation orders as Hurricane Idalia approaches, including parts of Tampa, the state’s third-largest city.
Each county in Florida has its own website that residents can check for the recommended level of preparation. Here is the latest, as of 5 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday. Evacuation orders could be expanded as the storm nears the coast.
— Baker County, west of Jacksonville, issued a voluntary evacuation order for low-lying and flood-prone areas and for mobile homes.
— Citrus County, north of Tampa, ordered a mandatory evacuation for all areas west of U.S. Highway 19 and several sections east of the highway.
— Dixie County, west of Gainesville, issued a voluntary evacuation order for all residents.
— Franklin County, southwest of Tallahassee, issued a mandatory evacuation for all those on barrier islands, in low-lying areas, in mobile homes and in recreational vehicle parks starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
— Gilchrist County, west of Gainesville, issued a voluntary evacuation order for all low-lying areas and mobile homes.
— Gulf County, southeast of Panama City, ordered mandatory evacuations for visitors on Cape San Blas north of the Stump Hole, and people in recreational vehicles along County Road 30 and U.S. Route 90 from the Franklin County border to Mexico Beach — including all of Cape San Blas, Simmons Bayou, Indian Pass, Highland View, and St. Joe Beach. It also issued voluntary evacuations for Indian Pass and low-lying areas.
— Hernando County, north of Tampa, ordered voluntary evacuations of all areas west of U.S. Highway 19, including all residents living in coastal and low-lying areas, and those in manufactured or mobile homes, starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
— Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal areas. Residents can use an online tool to see their evacuation status.
— Jefferson County, east of Tallahassee, ordered the voluntary evacuation of mobile homes, recreational vehicles and low-lying areas that are prone to floods. There were no shelters open in the county, according to the sheriff’s office.
— Lafayette County, northwest of Gainesville, issued a mandatory evacuation order for all residents living in mobile homes, travel trailers and “structurally compromised housing.”
— Levy County, southwest of Gainesville, ordered the mandatory evacuation of all residents in recreational vehicles, mobile homes, manufactured homes, coastal communities and low-lying areas by 4 p.m. Tuesday.
— Madison County, east of Tallahassee, issued a voluntary evacuation order for residents in low-lying and flood-prone areas, mobile homes, travel trailers, recreational vehicles and “structurally compromised housing.”
— Manatee County, which is south of St. Petersburg and includes Bradenton, ordered the mandatory evacuation of some areas and of all mobile or manufactured homes and recreational vehicles, and voluntary evacuations for others, effective at 2 p.m. Monday.
— Marion County, just south of Gainesville, recommended evacuations for residents who live west of Interstate 75 in a mobile home, a recreational vehicle or those who require electricity for medical purposes.
— Pasco County, just north of Tampa, ordered mandatory evacuations of certain areas and voluntary evacuations elsewhere.
— Pinellas County, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, ordered the mandatory evacuation of some areas and of all mobile homes.
— Sarasota County, which extends from Sarasota to Englewood, called for the evacuation of some areas.
— Suwannee County, in north-central Florida, ordered the mandatory evacuation of low-lying or flood-prone areas starting at noon Tuesday.
— Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee, issued a mandatory evacuation order for all coastal areas, mobile homes, travel trailers and “substandard housing.”
— Union County, north of Gainesville, strongly encouraged all residents in mobile homes, low-lying areas and homes that are not structurally sound to evacuate.
— Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach, recommended a voluntary evacuation for people in recreational vehicles and in mobile homes and those in low-lying areas beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
— Wakulla County, just south of Tallahassee, issued voluntary evacuation order for coastal and low-lying areas, as well as mobile homes.