Idalia is expected to intensify early this week and hit Florida's Gulf Coast as a major category three hurricane, according to officials.
The system was forecast to become a dangerous "major hurricane" over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico by early Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said. A major hurricane is defined as a Category 3 system or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
Hurricane watches are in effect along the Gulf Coast from Sarasota County all the way north to Franklin County, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a Monday morning news briefing.
“So, this is going to be a major impact and Floridians should expect that this storm will be a major category three plus hurricane, so please prepare accordingly,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said the storm is expected to impact the areas between the north of Tampa all the way to Tallahassee, but warned residents elsewhere can still be impacted.
"So, pretty much anybody on the west coast of Florida, I mean, you can see major, major impacts and so please prepare accordingly," he said.
Idalia could bring "life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds and scattered flash and urban flooding" along parts of the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle as early as Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.
The storm is expected to bring 7 to 10 feet of storm surge to areas like Pinellas County, according to Kevin Guthrie, Florida Division of Emergency Management Executive Director.
"Storm surge can be life threatening at just 2 to 3 feet, some of these areas are going to experience storm surge well over seven," Guthrie said at the Monday morning news briefing.
Guthrie warned that Idalia will also bring "tornadic activity."
“As in Hurricane Ian, the very first warning that we had that something was going bad was a tornado in Palm Beach County," he said.
The hurricane center said parts of the west coast of Florida, the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia and the eastern Carolinas could see around 4 to 8 inches of rain from Tuesday into Thursday, with isolated totals of 12 inches possible.
“Areas of flash and urban flooding, some of which may be locally significant, are expected across portions of the west coast of Florida, the Florida Panhandle, and southern Georgia Tuesday into Wednesday, spreading into portions of the eastern Carolinas Wednesday into Thursday,” it said.
Already, the storm was intensifying as it approached Cuba on Monday morning, the hurricane center said.
As of 8 a.m. ET, Idalia was about 375 miles southwest of Key West, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, according to Guthrie.
DeSantis has issued an emergency executive order in 46 counties, including Franklin, Gulf, Manatee, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Evacuation orders will be issued to all counties along the Gulf Coast, indicated on the evacuation zone map as zones A and B, according to DeSantis.
Florida residents ordered to evacuate should be prepared to get to higher ground, DeSantis said, adding that it's not necessary to travel hundreds of miles or leave the state.
“This is going to be a major hurricane, this is going to be a powerful hurricane," said DeSantis. "And this is absolutely going to impact the state of Florida in many, many different ways. So please, please heed the directives from your local officials, please make the appropriate accommodations and take the appropriate precautions.”
A hurricane warning, which means hurricane conditions are expected, was in effect for the city of Pinar del Río in Cuba, while a tropical storm warning was in place for the Yucatan Peninsula from Tulum to Rio Lagartos, including Cozumel, in Cuba, along with the Isle of Youth.
A tropical storm warning was also in place for the Dry Tortugas in Florida, while a storm surge watch was also in effect for Chokoloskee to Indian Pass in Florida, including Tampa Bay, according to the hurricane center.
A hurricane watch, which means hurricane conditions are possible, was in place for Englewood to Indian Pass in Florida, including Tampa Bay.