Hurricane Idalia has made landfall on Florida’s west coast as a dangerous Category 3 storm on Wednesday and threatens to unleash life-threatening storm surges and rainfall.
Idalia came ashore in the lightly populated Big Bend region, where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula. It was about 30 kilometres south of Perry, Fla., just before 8 a.m., packing maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometres per hour, the Miami-National Hurricane Center said. The storm had intensified in warm waters for a time overnight into a Category 4 storm.
“Don’t put your life at risk by doing anything dumb at this point,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “This thing’s powerful. If you’re inside, just hunker down until it gets past you.”
There was also a tornado risk in several counties, DeSantis said.
Florida residents living in vulnerable coastal areas were ordered to pack up and leave as Idalia gained strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and authorities warned of a “catastrophic storm surge and destructive winds” when the storm moves ashore.
Not everyone was heeding the warning. Andy Bair, owner of the Island Hotel on Cedar Key, said he intended to “babysit” his bed-and-breakfast, which predates the Civil War. The building has not flooded in the almost 20 years he has owned it, not even when Hurricane Hermine flooded the city in 2016.
“Being a caretaker of the oldest building in Cedar Key, I just feel kind of like I need to be here,” Bair said. “We’ve proven time and again that we’re not going to wash away. We may be a little uncomfortable for a couple of days, but we’ll be OK eventually.”
Idalia has fed off some of the hottest water on the planet.
“It’s 88, 89 degrees (31 C to 32 C) over where the storm’s going to be tracking, so that’s effectively rocket fuel for the storm,” said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Georgia, Carolina on guard
More than 30,000 utility workers were mobilized by Florida officials to make repairs as quickly as possible in the hurricane’s wake, and about 5,500 National Guard troops were activated. Tolls were waived on highways out of the danger area, shelters were open and hotels prepared to take in evacuees.
In Tarpon Springs, a coastal community northwest of Tampa, 60 patients were evacuated from a hospital out of concern that the system could bring a two-metre storm surge.
After landing in the Big Bend region, Idalia is forecast to cross the Florida peninsula and then drench southern Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday.
Both Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced states of emergency, freeing up state resources and personnel, including hundreds of National Guard troops. “
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said the 2023 hurricane season would be far busier than initially forecast, partly because of extremely warm ocean temperatures. The season runs through Nov. 30, with August and September typically the peak.
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