Advertisement

Hurricane Idalia is near, Tampa. City officials warn of storm surge danger.

City leaders are urging against complacency, and bracing for storm surge Wednesday
 
Clouds loom along the Tampa skyline ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Idalia on Tuesday.
Clouds loom along the Tampa skyline ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Idalia on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 30, 2023|Updated Aug. 30, 2023

TAMPA — As Idalia strengthened into a hurricane Tuesday and continued to chase residents from Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa city leaders warned residents of the looming threat of storm surges.

“Heed the warnings,” Mayor Jane Castor said at the emergency operations center north of downtown early Tuesday evening, as Idalia churned in the Gulf of Mexico, centered 195 miles southwest of the city and barreling to the north at 16 mph. “There is still time for you to get out of those low-lying areas.”

Tampa, where summer flooding routinely swallows neighborhood streets, is bracing for a surge of 4-6 feet Wednesday, said Castor, warning residents of vulnerable areas not to return home until they are instructed to do so.

”It is critically, critically important that you understand that,” she added.

Wednesday is expected to bring a full moon and a king tide just as the storm makes landfall, which could lead to a “record-setting” surge along the state’s west coast, forecasters say.

Choppy high water is seen in Hillsborough Bay along Bayshore Boulevard ahead of Hurricane Idalia's arrival at Macfarlane Park in Tampa on Tuesday.
Choppy high water is seen in Hillsborough Bay along Bayshore Boulevard ahead of Hurricane Idalia's arrival at Macfarlane Park in Tampa on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The latest update Tuesday evening showed the track shifting north, with Hillsborough County outside the cone of uncertainty. Still, the county’s top emergency official is preparing for “record flooding potential on the Alafia River,” which flows west through Lithia and Riverview to Hillsborough Bay.

And memories of Hurricane Ian remain fresh. The third-costliest weather disaster on record was headed for Tampa Bay before it took a turn and devastated Fort Myers.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Castor said en route to one of the city’s three emergency response centers early Tuesday afternoon. “Mother Nature is ultimately in charge.”

The city has seven “push crews,” responsible for fanning out along vital roadways in the storm’s wake to clear paths for emergency vehicles. They’ll be assisted by the city’s drone team. Winds are expected to pick up around 9 p.m. Tuesday, coming into full force around midnight.

”But the water is what we are most concerned about,” said Castor, who signed an executive order declaring a local state of emergency Monday.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor en route to the city’s emergency response center at Oak Park Elementary School Tuesday afternoon.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor en route to the city’s emergency response center at Oak Park Elementary School Tuesday afternoon. [ Olivia George ]

At a 5:30 p.m. news conference Tuesday, Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw reminded residents not to drive through water-clogged streets.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” he said, urging residents not to be lulled into a false sense of security if they see clouds give way to blue skies Wednesday.

”The storm may pass, the sun may be out,” he said. “But the tides are still coming in.”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times hurricane coverage 2023

What to know about forecast tracks as Idalia looms over Florida

Idalia could rapidly intensify. How and why?

Hurricane season 2023: Here’s what to know about forecast tracks.

Storm surge is deadly. We built a computer model to show how.

How to protect your pets — and yourself — during a hurricane.

Checklists for building all kinds of storm kits

Protect your data and documents using your phone

Protect your home and business before the storm

7 lessons for the 2023 hurricane season from Hurricane Ian.