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Idalia strengthening to hurricane as it nears Florida coast

The tropical storm was forecast to become a dangerous “major hurricane” over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico by early Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

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Floridians were told to finish preparations, Tampa’s airport closed, and evacuation orders were issued as what is now Tropical Storm Idalia approached — likely as a hurricane.

Idalia is forecast to reach “major” hurricane status, meaning a Category 3, as it approaches Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The storm is forecast to reach the state’s coast on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane warnings and other warnings and advisories stretched along much of the coast.

What to know about the storm

  • Tropical Storm Idalia was forecast today to become a hurricane as it gained strength near Cuba.
  • Idalia could become a powerful Category 3 hurricane before it makes landfall Wednesday in Florida.
  • Hurricane watches are in effect along the Gulf Coast of Florida, and evacuation orders have been issued.
  • Idalia is expected to produce life-threatening storm surge inundation and hurricane conditions along parts of the Florida Gulf Coast. Flash and urban flooding are also likely from Idalia.

Forecasters and officials in Florida urged people to take precautions and finalize plans. Storm surges on the Gulf Coast could be measured in feet, and vulnerable areas of Jacksonville could face substantial flooding, residents were warned.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis activated members of the National Guard, and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration that had been requested as the state prepares, FEMA said.

If peak surge happens at high tide, Tampa Bay could see a storm surge of between 4 to 7 feet, the National Hurricane Center said. Florida emergency officials have warned that storm surges are often the greatest risk to life and property from hurricanes.

‘It will not be safe to be moving about,’ NHC director warns Florida

The Gulf Coast of Florida where Idalia is expected to approach is very susceptible to storm surges, the National Hurricane Center director said today as he urged people to take precautions now.

Tampa Bay has the potential of 4 to 7 feet of storm surge, hurricane center Director Jamie Rhome said in a video briefing.

“I stand 6 feet tall. So that’s potentially above my head, in terms of storm surge,” Rhome said in the video.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management said on X, formerly Twitter, that storm surge is “often the greatest threat to life & property from a hurricane.”

Rhome said that people in the hurricane warned areas should prepare for power outages that last several days and that they should be prepared by getting their prescriptions and supplies and by keeping communications devices charged and topping off gasoline tanks.

“It will not be safe to be moving about — not just during the storm, but it might not be safe to move about for several days after,” Rhome said.

Atlas V launch scheduled for Cape Canaveral delayed due to Idalia

The launch of an Atlas V 551 rocket which had been planned for Cape Canaveral is being delayed because of possible impacts from Idalia, United Launch Alliance said.

The rocket and its payload are being returned to the “vertical integration facility,” it said. The rocket launch is part of a joint National Reconnaissance Office and U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command, ULA said.

A tropical storm watch covered parts of Brevard County, where Cape Canaveral is, as well as other parts of Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Idalia is forecast to approach Florida’s Gulf Coast, parts of which were under hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings.

Idalia could bring feet of storm surge, forecasters say

If peak storm surge from Idalia occurs at high tide, areas of the Florida’s Gulf Coast could experience storm surges measured at 4 feet or more, forecasters said tonight.

At 11 p.m. ET, Idalia was a tropical storm but could become a hurricane “at any time,” the National Hurricane Center said in an update.

If peak surge happens at high tide, Tampa Bay could experience a storm surge of 4 to 7 feet, the agency said. Other areas could get 6 to 9, feet and a stretch from the Aucilla River to Chassahowitzka could get a surge of 8 to 12 feet, it said.

Other storm, Franklin, to bring rain and winds to Bermuda as it heads to sea

Another hurricane, Franklin, is expected to bring tropical storm conditions to Bermuda as it passes Wednesday, forecasters said, but it is heading away from the U.S.

Franklin will approach Bermuda on Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

At 8 p.m. today, it was a “very powerful” Category 4 hurricane, the agency said. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Bermuda. The storm is forecast to pass well to the west of Bermuda.

The storm is to the east of the East Coast and will continue to move north and east, away from the U.S., the agency said.

Dry Tortugas park, islands west of Key West, closes

Dry Tortugas National Park said today it is closing in advance of Tropical Storm Idalia.

The national park is a series of islands and the waters around them west of Key West. It covers around 100 square miles known for coral reefs and blue waters.

Waters are still open for vessels seeking safe harbor, the National Park Service said.

“Mariners should continue to monitor the storm. There will be no visitor services available while the closure is in effect, and emergency services will be extremely limited,” it warned.

Jacksonville declares local state of emergency

Jacksonville declared a local state of emergency today as the city of close to 1 million prepares for Idalia.

Idalia, currently a tropical storm, is forecast to become a hurricane as it approaches the Gulf Coast of Florida. Jacksonville is on the Atlantic side, but residents will feel the impact, Mayor Donna Deegan said.

“Our message: Prepare for hurricane-strength conditions here in Northeast Florida,” she said.

There is the potential for “substantial flooding,” she said, as well as high winds and rip currents throughout the week.

“This is absolutely no time to be in the water, over the next couple of days it will be very dangerous,” Deegan said.

City crews “are going to have a long couple of days ahead of us” as the storm approaches Florida, Deegan said. The city's emergency operations center was opened this morning.

What Idalia might mean for Carolinas

Idalia ‘almost a hurricane’ near Cuba

Tropical Storm Idalia was “almost a hurricane” near Cuba’s western tip this evening, forecasters said in an update, and it had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.

A Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale has sustained winds of 74 mph.

The storm is forecast to reach “major” status, which is a Category 3 or above, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Rapid strengthening is predicted during the next day or so, the center said in an 8 p.m. ET bulletin. “Idalia could become a hurricane at any time, and is forecast to become a major hurricane by late Tuesday or Tuesday night.”

Ian's carnage still fresh in the minds of Tampa residents

TAMPA, Fla. — In an area that has seen its share of storms and evacuations, some residents seem to be taking Idalia very seriously as they stock up on supplies.

A sandbag distribution location in Tampa said roughly 10,000 bags had been distributed so far today. The city of Tampa reported this evening that its distribution site at the Himes Avenue Complex ran out of supplies and had to shut down for the day.

Last year, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm and was connected to at least 148 deaths in the state. Residents saw how it strengthened and shifted course so rapidly that many were caught off-guard.

With scars still fresh on the west coast of Florida, residents weighing whether to ride out the storm or leave appear worried that history could repeat itself.

DeSantis urges residents in flood zones to move inland

Florida officials are urging everyone in low-lying areas of the Gulf Coast to get out of Dodge before Idalia's storm surge hits the state.

Gov. DeSantis said that tolls will be waived as soon as 4 a.m. tomorrow in an effort to make evacuations easier for families across the state. He also said that the state has 400,000 gallons of fuel ready to deploy and much of it will be prioritized along evacuation routes.

"You don't need to leave the state, you don't need to drive to hundreds of miles, you don't have to try to outrun the storm if you're in those low-lying areas," DeSantis said.

He emphasized that the priority was to get people out of the way of storm surge and that many could ride out the Idalia from a safe structure on higher ground.

Kevin Guthrie, executive director of the state's emergency management, also urged people to take advantage of shelters and hotels. He and the governor also said that power outages are likely a guarantee for certain areas.

"If you need power to survive, you need to evacuate," Guthrie said.

Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency stands ready

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is mobilizing the state's operation center to prepare for any potential impact from Idalia.

"Rest assured, though the system will likely weaken before crossing our border, we’re not taking anything for granted," Kemp said in a news release today.

The operation center includes Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency teams that will monitor forecasts to anticipate any changes affecting the state.

Georgia residents are encouraged to also keep an eye out on the weather to quickly make any necessary preparations.

Tampa officials meeting 'around the clock,' mayor says

Idalia now has 70 mph sustained winds, National Hurricane Center says

Idalia has sustained winds of 70 mph and is very close to moving into a Category 1 hurricane as it nears Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. ET advisory.

The storm was about 35 miles south-southwest of Cuba.

The lowest sustained wind speed of a Category 1 storm is 74 mph, and the storm has already gained 5 mph since this morning. Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds are "increasingly likely" for Florida, the NHC said.

Storm surge and hurricane warnings were extended to Indian Pass, Florida, which is roughly 94 miles southwest of Tallahassee.

Tampa-area colleges cancel classes and brace for potential evacuations

Higher education in the Tampa area will pause this week as three schools announced cancellations today.

The University of South Florida, the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College all announced closures for tomorrow and Wednesday.

With campuses in St. Petersburg, USF said on its site that it is also assessing evacuation orders for Pinellas County. Residential students in St. Petersburg without alternative housing will be relocated to the Tampa campus.

"If the Tampa campus is required to evacuate, students remaining on campus would be transported to approved county shelters until it is safe to return," the school said.

The University of Tampa said it would send a separate communication to residential students.

Florida State University cancels Wednesday classes ahead of Idalia

DeSantis warns residents 'there’s no way you’re going to get through this storm without losing power'

Gov. Ron DeSantis said residents in Idalia's path will not get through the storm without losing power.

While tens of thousands of linemen will be positioned in impact areas prior to Idalia's arrival in order to get power restored, he said residents should be prepared to lose power.

"We’ve got a lot of people staged that are going to do something about it to try to restore, but there’s no way you’re going to get through this storm without losing power, so just make those preparations," he said.

Resources activated around the state in preparation for Idalia include 5,500 National Guardsmen, 200,000 gallons of fuel and seven urban search and rescue teams, according to DeSantis.

University of Florida cancels classes ahead of Idalia

Biden approves Florida's pre-landfall declaration ahead of Idalia

President Joe Biden has approved Florida's pre-landfall declaration requested by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A pre-landfall declaration is a request states can make for a presidential emergency declaration ahead of a hurricane or typhoon making landfall, according to FEMA.

DeSantis requested the declaration from the federal government last night. The governor spoke with Biden and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell today.

"He said that they were supporting our pre-landfall declaration and they stand by ready to assist with anything that we need," DeSantis said of the conversation.


Pinellas County orders mandatory evacuations

Pinellas County issued a mandatory evacuation order today for residents living in low-lying areas due to "possible life-threatening storm surge," according to a news release.

The mandatory evacuation affects 338,000 people and goes into effect at 7 tonight. for those living in Zone A, or the red areas highlighted on this map, which are mostly on the outskirts of Pinellas County.

The evacuation also includes all those who live in mobile homes and residential health care facilities in Zone A. Evacuation of the health care facilities will begin at 1 p.m. today.

Residents are encouraged to evacuate inland beyond Zone B.

Tampa International Airport to close ahead of Idalia

Tampa International Airport will close early tomorrow morning ahead of Idalia, which is expected to hit Florida this week as a Category 3 hurricane, officials said.

The airport will suspend all commercial operations starting 12:01 a.m. and anticipates reopening Thursday morning "with damage assessments beginning after the storm passes," according to a news release.

"The closure will allow the Airport and its partners to prepare the airfield and terminals, including the securing of jet bridges, ground equipment and any remaining aircraft before Idalia’s expected landfall early Wednesday as a potential major hurricane," the statement read. "Some cargo and private aircraft operations could continue overnight, but all air traffic will cease by 7 a.m. Tuesday morning."

Satellite images show storm churning near Cuba

Idalia to have 'major impact' on Florida, DeSantis warns

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 3-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 that residents elsewhere can still be affected.

“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.

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,” DeSantis said. “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.”

Read the full story here.

Follow Idalia's path