Idalia reaches hurricane status overnight; Florida to see effects Tuesday

By: - August 29, 2023 10:59 am

Credit: Idalia. National Hurricane Center, X. Aug. 29, 2023.

Hurricane Idalia is strengthening as it pushes north along the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico as officials expect it to make landfall along Florida’s west coast Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed at a press conference Tuesday morning.

“This storm is going to hit tomorrow morning,” DeSantis said at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. “You will start certainly seeing effects of this in different parts of the state. Later on today (meaning Tuesday).

Idalia became a Category 1 hurricane early Tuesday morning and is expected to reach Category 2 status by 1 p.m. today. The storm currently has sustained winds of 80 mph and is located 130 miles southeast of Florida’s Dry Tortugas, according to DeSantis.

Areas of the Gulf Coast are now under a hurricane warning. If Idalia strikes Big Bend at high tide, areas of the state could see a storm surge as high as 8 to 12 feet, the governor said. The National Hurricane Center forecasts that the storm’s winds will reach Florida by Tuesday afternoon. 

“If you are in one of those areas that’s in line for some of the major storm surge and you’re told to evacuate, you have time to do that,” DeSantis said. “But you’ve got to do that now.”

The Florida Department of Transportation has waived tolls in certain counties expected to be affected by the storm, beginning at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The area Idalia is expected to make her landfall, the low-lying, coastal Dixie and Taylor counties, have rarely seen a direct hit by a major hurricane. The last hurricane to hit the area out of the Gulf of Mexico was Gordon in 2000, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

DeSantis was joined by Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who urged Floridians to listen to their local authorities on evacuation orders and to heed if their county is under a hurricane or storm surge watch, rather than eyeing the projected path of Idalia’s cone.

Guthrie also gave advice for Floridians under evacuation orders.

“If you’re evacuating, do not leave your pets behind. Make sure you have leashes, carriers, plenty of food and water for them,” Guthrie said. “Evacuations can be stressful on the whole family, so please pack comfort items for your kids, like their favorite toys, games or snacks.”

The governor was also flanked by Major General John D. Hass, his senior military advisor who is responsible for the mobilization of the Florida National Guard. And 5,500 Florida National Guardsmen have been activated in preparation for Idalia, DeSantis said. 

Florida has also deployed 247 Starlink satellite internet constellations, with another 529 staged in Central Florida, according to DeSantis, along with 1,100 generators en route to impacted areas from the Florida Department of Transportation and hundreds of pallets of food and water. The governor said 20 shelters are currently open, with another 20 either mobilizing or on standby.

And 42 of the state’s 67 school districts have announced closures this week, along with 16 community colleges and seven state universities.

Meanwhile, DeSantis issued another executive order expanding the number of counties under a state of emergency in preparation for Tropical Storm Idalia from 46 counties to 49 counties. Counties now included in the executive order are:

Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Brevard, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia, and Wakulla counties.
This is an updated story.

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Christian Casale
Christian Casale

Christian covers education, politics, and whatever else interests him for the Florida Phoenix. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor with the Independent Florida Alligator.