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Florida's Apalachee Bay hit by major hurricane for first time in recorded history

Tallahassee was also expected to get a rare wallop, but the state capital seemed to have dodged the worst of the storm's wrath.
Hurricane Idalia approaches Florida on Wednesday.
Hurricane Idalia approaches Florida on Wednesday. NOAA

Florida is no stranger to ferocious storms, but the state's Apalachee Bay — an estuary 25 miles south of Tallahassee — usually dodges the most fearsome weather conditions.

Hurricane Idalia had other plans.

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Idalia, which made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 storm on Wednesday, became the first major hurricane to enter Apalachee Bay since modern record-keeping started in 1851, according to the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, the state capital.

The storm peaked in intensity around the bay at 132 mph, according to Israel Gonzalez, a meteorologist for the weather service's office in Tallahassee.

"Looking back through recorded history, NO major hurricanes have ever moved through the Apalachee Bay," the weather service said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. "When you try to compare this storm to others, DON'T. No one has seen this."

Idalia made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend region, near Keaton Beach, just before 8 a.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. Keaton Beach is roughly 32 miles east of Apalachee Bay.

In the hours before Idalia slammed into Keaton Beach, officials in Tallahassee raised concerns that the city could get walloped with a force not seen in decades. In an interview with NBC's Willie Geist early Wednesday, Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey warned that Idalia would be the biggest storm to slam Tallahassee in the city's history.

However, Idalia's path ticked slightly east overnight, meaning Tallahassee avoided the brunt of the storm's wrath. The city, home to about 30,000 people, was still seeing widespread power outages and gusts up to 50 miles an hour on Wednesday, though.

Idalia battered cities east of Tallahassee. Tampa was deluged by floodwaters. Monstrous winds, some churning as fast as 100 mph, whipped through Perry.

The hurricane weakened to Category 1 status as of 11 a.m., according to the weather service.

“Damaging wind gusts continue around the storm and heavy rains around the center are leading to several water rescues in south-central Georgia. Additionally, storm surge concerns remain across the Big Bend,” it said.

Daniel Arkin reported from New York and Matt Dixon from Tallahassee, Fla.