Hurricane Idalia, pronounced (ee-DAL-ya), has become a strong category 2 hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, with its sights set on the big bend of Florida. As of the latest 8:00 PM EDT National Hurricane Center (NHC) advisory, the hurricane has sustained winds of 105 mph and is moving north at 16 mph. On satellite imagery, the storm appears to be very healthy with strong convection around its center. The system has yet to feature an eye but is expected to continue to restrengthen upon landfall Wednesday morning in Florida.
Expected Path and Current Watches and Warnings
Tropical Storm Force Winds/Gusts: 39-73mph
Hurricane Force Winds/Gusts: 74 + mph
Ahead of the system, tropical storm warnings are in effect for all of northern and central Florida, extending from the Fort Myers metro through to Jacksonville and just west of Tallahassee. These warnings extend into southern Georgia and up the coast of the Carolinas to Wilmington, NC. Tropical storm watches have been issued for portions of far SE Florida, including Key West, and in portions of south-central Georgia and South Carolina. Eastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks are also under a tropical storm watch. Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Tampa Bay area, extending into southern Georgia and near the state capitol of Florida. Hurricane watches are posted for the Southeast Georgia coast and far southern South Carolina coast, including the Savannah, GA metro area. Storm surge warnings have been posted for the entire big bend of Florida stretching from Panama City, FL area to the Sarasota, FL area. Storm surge watches have been posted for portions of far southeast Florida including Cape Coral and Port Charlotte. Further north, storm surge watches are issued for the entire GA coast and portions of the SC coast from Hilton Head to Charleston. Additionally, portions of the NC outer banks on the Pamlico Sound are under a storm surge watch.
Shifting our attention to the cone, Idalia is forecasted to strengthen into a major hurricane by Wednesday morning as it feeds off of very warm ocean temperatures. In the late morning, the hurricane is expected to make landfall on the big bend of Florida. The powerful system will retain hurricane strength as it crosses into Georgia in the afternoon before beginning to speed up through the Carolinas, exiting off the North Carolina coast Thursday afternoon and drifting into the Atlantic Ocean through the beginning of the weekend.
As Idalia approaches Florida, tropical storm force winds have already began impacting parts of the state and will continue to overspread the Tampa Metro area and the rest of the northern FL gulf coast through the rest of the evening. Storm surge of 1-3 ft will impact much of extreme south Florida while the Tampa Bay metro area will receive between 4-6 ft of surge. When the storm is on final approach, catastrophic surges of 10-15 ft accompanied by sustained winds up to 100 mph with stronger gusts within the eyewall will batter parts of the Florida coastline, with significant flooding and wind damage possible. Power outages and communications issues are likely across much of the state. In addition, heavy rain is expected with widespread totals of 4-6 inches throughout much of north-central Florida with isolated spots up to 10 inches. Isolated tornadoes are possible on the northeast quadrant of the storm where discrete thunderstorms and squalls form.
Impacts: Georgia and the Carolinas
As Idalia moves further north, the system will begin to slowly weaken, however impacts from the weakening storm will still be felt. Across coastal Georgia and portions of South Carolina, tropical storm force winds with gusts of up to hurricane strength will be felt. Power outages are possible along the coast as well as storm surges of 2-4 ft. In northern SC and eastern NC, tropical storm force winds are possible with storm surges of 1-3 ft. Further inland, a very heavy rain swath of 4-8 inches is likely with isolated totals near double digits and flash flooding possible. Isolated tornadoes near the coast within squalls are also possible where storms rotate as they move onshore.
Preparedness and Final Thoughts
Hurricane Idalia will be a very destructive storm that will affect millions of people in the Southeast US. If you are in an evacuation zone, please try to leave and protect your home if possible. Otherwise, try to find an interior room away from windows and doors. If you have not been ordered to evacuate, please heed all information from your local officials and stay safe during this storm by getting a supply of food, water, and batteries to prepare yourself for the aftermath.