Residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast are being warned about the impending danger posed by Hurricane Idalia, which is expected to bring life-threatening storm surges and hurricane-force winds over the next two days. The National Hurricane Center issued these warnings following heavy rain, flooding, and landslides in Cuba. Idalia is forecasted to make landfall on Florida’s northwestern coast as a Category 3 hurricane early Wednesday morning, bringing with it 10 to 20cm of rain and winds reaching speeds of up to 120mph.
The greatest danger presented by Idalia is the potential for a storm surge, which could flood low-lying areas along Florida’s coast, with a wall of water rising as high as 15ft. Storm surges occur when strong winds and low atmospheric pressure associated with a hurricane push ocean water onto land. This is often the most destructive aspect of a hurricane. Storm surge warnings have been issued for hundreds of miles of Florida shoreline, from Apalachicola Bay down to Sarasota.
Additionally, the combination of Idalia’s arrival and a full moon will result in higher-than-normal ocean tides. Known as king tides, these occur when the sun and moon align with Earth, creating an increased gravitational pull. This could further exacerbate the inland surge of water, especially if strong onshore winds coincide with high tide.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has also cautioned that the hurricane may spawn tornadoes as it moves across the state.
Idalia is the first storm of this hurricane season to make landfall in Florida, a state still dealing with the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Ian. The storm is seen as an unprecedented event, as no major hurricanes are on record to have passed through the bay bordering the Big Bend region.
In response to the potential danger, mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for almost 900 residents on the island of Cedar Key. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in 49 of the state’s 67 counties along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Approximately 1,100 National Guard members have been mobilized, equipped with high-water vehicles and aircraft, to aid in rescue and recovery efforts.
Idalia is expected to move eastwards across the northern part of the state, just north of Jacksonville, before reaching the border with Georgia. Beyond Florida, the storm will track along the Gulf of Mexico coastline, affecting Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later in the week.