Hurricane Idalia has grown into an “extremely dangerous” major Category 3 hurricane and was expected to bring “catastrophic” storm surge before making landfall along Florida’s Big Bend Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Much of Florida’s west coast, including Tampa Bay, was under a hurricane and storm surge warning. Storm effects can reach far outside the forecast cone.
In an 2 a.m. update from the Hurricane Center on Wednesday, forecasters predicted Idalia will reach the coast of Florida near Apalachee Bay Wednesday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of at least 130 mph.
In addition to surge, Category 4 winds also are considered catastrophic, according to the National Hurricane Center. They can cause severe damage to the roofs and exterior walls of well-built frame houses and snap or uproot most trees and power poles. Power outages can last weeks, and possibly months, with some areas left uninhabitable for an extended period.
Forecasters said Tampa Bay could still experience flooding from storm surge and rain.
“Even if the system passes well to the west, we’re going to have significant flooding in and around the Tampa Bay area,” said Jamie Rhome, deputy director for the National Hurricane Center, in a 5 p.m. update Tuesday.
Forecasters said there is danger of a life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Gulf Coast, including Tampa Bay. The surge could reach 15 feet in areas closest to the center of the storm.
“Catastrophic impacts from storm surge inundation of 10 to 15 feet above ground level and destructive waves are expected somewhere between Aucilla River and Yankeetown, Florida,” an earlier forecast said.
A hurricane warning stretched from the middle of Longboat Key to the south of Tampa Bay north to Indian Pass in the Panhandle.
A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning areas and people there should be prepared. A storm surge warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the next 36 hours.
“Dangerous winds are likely to spread well inland near the path of Idalia due to its relatively fast forward motion,” forecasts said.
Hurricane aircraft data found that sustained winds had increased to 120 mph, with higher gusts shortly before 2 a.m. A Category 3 storm, with wind speeds of at least 111 mph, is considered a mayor hurricane that can bring devastating damage.
Hurricane Idalia’s potential impacts
Storm surge reached the Tampa Bay area late Tuesday night and is expected to peak Wednesday morning.
Forecasters anticipate the potential storm surge threat in Tampa Bay could be 4 to 6 feet.
How high the actual surge will rise depends on Wednesday’s tides, said Eric Oglesby, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office.
“It’s going to matter exactly when the peak surge comes in compared to what is the high tide as far as how severe the flooding gets,” he said.
Tampa Bay will see the highest tides of the month not long after Hurricane Idalia makes landfall. Wednesday before 2 p.m. is expected to be a king tide, which means storm surge from Idalia could reach about 1 or 2 feet higher than under normal tide conditions.
“It won’t take much to cause a three-to-six-foot surge around the bay as the winds turn tomorrow morning as the hurricane passes by,” said Mike Clay, chief meteorologist for Spectrum Bay News 9.
The brunt of the storm’s hurricane-force winds were expected to stay away from the Tampa Bay area, said Ali Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office on Tuesday afternoon.
But it won’t save the area entirely from Idalia’s “dirty side,” an unflattering way to describe the side of a tropical system that brings the worst effects, such as higher rain amounts, wind speeds and storm surge.
The cone shows where the center of the storm is likely to go, but impacts reach further outward, said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office.
Hurricane Idalia was bringing tropical storm force winds to Tampa Bay, and northern coastal areas of Pinellas and coastal areas of Pasco could continue to see Category 1 winds, the weather service said.
There is the potential for life-threatening winds where the core of Idalia moves onshore, with hurricane conditions expected in other areas of the hurricane warning area along the Gulf Coast, forecasters said.
Tampa Bay could see 4 to 6 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts.
Where is Hurricane Idalia?
Hurricane Idalia was about 100 miles southwest of Cedar Key and 175 miles south of Tallahassee.
Hurricane Idalia is continuing to strengthen and had maximum sustained winds near 120 mph — which is a Category 3 storm. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 25 miles and tropical storm-force winds extended outwards up to 160 miles.
The storm picked had shifted slightly north-northeast and was traveling at about 15 mph Wednesday morning. Forecasters anticipate Idalia will speed up as the storm moves north and north-northeast through early Wednesday while approaching the coast. Due to the storm’s fast motion, forecasters expect Idalia will likely still be a hurricane after crossing Florida and as it approaches the Georgia or South Carolina coast.
Watches and warnings
A storm surge warning is in effect for Englewood northward to Indian Pass, including Tampa Bay.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the middle of Longboat Key northward to Indian Pass, including Tampa Bay.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for Chokoloskee northward to the Middle of Longboat Key; west of Indian Pass to Mexico Beach; and Sebastian Inlet, Florida to South Santee River, South Carolina.
A storm surge watch is in effect for Bonita Beach northward to Englewood, including Charlotte Harbour; the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to South Santee River, South Carolina; Beaufort Inlet to Drum Inlet North Carolina; and Neuse and Pamlico Rivers North Carolina.
A hurricane watch is in effect for the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to Edisto Beach South Carolina.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for North of Surf City North Carolina to the North Carolina/Virginia border; and Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds
This is a breaking news story and will be updated throughout the day.
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