Bloomberg — Hurricane Idalia is gathering force as it sweeps past Cuba in advance of a landfall on Florida’s west coast, where it could drive a deadly wall of water into the shoreline, snap trees and cause widespread power outages.
Idalia’s winds topped 80 miles (129 kilometers) per hour Tuesday and are forecast to reach 120 mph, or Category 3 strength, when it comes ashore somewhere in western Florida. Up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) of sea water could be pushed onshore north of Tampa and 7 feet could slosh across Tampa Bay, the US National Hurricane Center said in an 8 a.m. New York time advisory.
“Rapid intensification is likely through landfall, and Idalia is forecast to become an extremely dangerous major hurricane before making landfall on Wednesday,” Robbie Berg, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, wrote in his forecast.
Tampa International Airport is closed Tuesday. According to data from FlightAware, 604 flights in and out of Tampa have been canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Rain should start to spread across Florida and winds will pick up in the Fort Meyers area tonight, said Tyler Roys, a senior meteorologist with commercial forecaster AccuWeather Inc. Landfall will likely be around 10 a.m. Wednesday near Steinhatchee, about 75 miles southeast of Tallahassee.
If it reaches forecast Category 3 strength — with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour — Idalia would be the first major hurricane to hit Florida since last September. That’s when Hurricane Ian struck the western part of the state as a Category 4 storm, killing at least 150 people and causing more than $112 billion in damage.
Depending on its exact track, Idalia could cause anywhere from $3 billion to $15 billion in damage and losses because much of the area in its potential path is sparsely populated, while other areas are built up, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. If the storm hits 50 miles south of its current track, it would bring high winds to the Tampa-Clearwater area and push costs much higher.
Parts of Florida, southeast Georgia and the eastern Carolinas are likely to see as much as 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of rain into Thursday, with up to a foot likely in some isolated areas, the hurricane center said. Storm surge and tides could combine to cause flooding, with the water at Tampa Bay possibly rising as much as 7 feet (2.1 meters) above ground.
This would be enough to submerge the approaches to bridges in the Tampa area, said Roys said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis extended an emergency declaration on Monday to cover 46 counties, with mandatory evacuation orders for several on the Gulf Coast. President Joe Biden approved federal emergency declarations for Florida, allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.
“This is going to be a major hurricane, you could have catastrophic storm surge in your area,” DeSantis said. “You could have major impact even if you’re outside the cone, so please plan accordingly.”
Idalia dumped up to four inches of rain and lashed the western part of Cuba with 62-mph winds Monday night, Cuba’s Civil Defense reported. While about 60% of residents in the western Pinar del Rio province were left without electricity, there were no immediate reports of major damage.
Idalia is expected to stay in the eastern Gulf, away from offshore oil and natural gas production. Most of the key citrus areas in central Florida would not be seriously impacted, World Weather Inc. President Drew Lerner said. Florida is the top orange-juice supplier in the US.
After it crosses Florida, Idalia could bring heavy rain and storm surge along the coastline from Georgia to North Carolina, a situation that could be made worse by higher-than-normal tides brought on by Wednesday’s full moon, Roys said.
Barge traffic moving fuel along the US Gulf Coast to Florida is down, Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Fuel Marketers Association, said Monday. Meanwhile, demand is surging for gasoline as Floridians fill up for possible evacuations as well as for diesel for backup power generation, Bowman said. Tampa and other regional ports are closed to inbound traffic, as is the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
To complicate matters, DeSantis said the state has identified 29 gas stations that recently received tainted fuel. Citgo said Sunday it discovered contaminated fuel at its terminal in Tampa, Florida, and has asked marketers to stop sales of the product. DeSantis said the incident likely won’t have a major impact on fuel supply.
Florida is mainly supplied via waterborne shipments from refiners in Texas and Louisiana.
--With assistance from Immanual John Milton, Áine Quinn, Carolynn Look, Dan Murtaugh, Jim Wyss, Sheela Tobben, Chunzi Xu and Anna Jean Kaiser.
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