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Tropical Storm Idalia formed Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico amid warnings it could slam across Florida's shores as a hurricane, dropping up to 18 inches of rain on a region battered less than a year ago by historic Hurricane Ian.
Ryan Truchelut, chief meteorologist at Florida-based WeatherTiger, says there are warning signals that Idalia could reach major hurricane intensity − sustained winds of at least 111 mph for Category 3 status − and that it would be "naïve to ignore them."
On Sunday night, Truchelut said Idalia was in the northwestern Caribbean and appeared to be developing "deep area" thunderstorm activity near its circulation center, which could cause intensification of the storm on Monday. Idalia had also drifted slightly east at 3 mph with an increased maximum of sustained winds up from 45 mph.
"More damaging and less damaging outcomes remain on the table," said Truchelut, who provides forecasts for the USA TODAY Network. "But the eastern Panhandle, Big Bend and west-central Florida coasts are at serious risk of surge, wind and rain impacts from a potential major hurricane landfall Wednesday."
AccuWeather said several inches of rain could trigger inland flooding in low-lying areas beginning as early as Tuesday in central and northern Florida. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph are likely in much of northern and central Florida with gusts of up to 80 mph along the Florida Gulf Coast.
A high risk for impact was centered around the Big Bend region of the Gulf Coast linking the Panhandle and peninsula, AccuWeather said, warning of "life-threatening damaging winds, torrential rain and storm surge flooding" as Idalia closes in on the state, gaining strength as it sweeps across high water temperatures in the Gulf.
The storm could prompt travel problems, and "significant airline delays" are possible for flights in and out of the region Tuesday to Wednesday, AccuWeather said.
◾Late Sunday, the storm was about 95 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving northeast at 3 mph with highest sustained winds of 45 mph, forecasters said. Hurricanes have winds of 74 mph and above.
◾Idalia could approach Florida on Wednesday with winds of up to 100 mph, according to the latest forecasts from the Hurricane Center. That would make it a Category 2 hurricane.
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What is the possible path of Tropical Storm Idalia?
The track forecast map shows the potential path of the center of the storm, according to the hurricane center. The forecast cone does not include the width of the storm or its impacts, and a storm's center can move outside the cone about 33% of the time.
Risk of high storm surge along Florida coast
The National Hurricane Center issued several storm surge and hurricane watches for the west coast of Florida and the coast of the Florida Panhandle. Although it is "too soon" to specify the exact location of these impacts, the center said there is an increased risk of life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds.
Truchelut said significant storm surge will be seen along the nature and west central coast, with a potential for seven to 11 feet of storm surge in the Big Bend area and northern Nature Coast.
Scattered flash flooding and urban flooding is also expected in these regions and in portions of the U.S. Southeast from Tuesday to Thursday, according to the hurricane center.
Tuesday a 'dangerous day' as storm builds
Truchelut said Tuesday will be "a dangerous day, and I don’t like what I’m seeing." He said a combination of factors could strengthen the storm.
"I don’t want to pull the fire alarm, but Idalia has infernal potential, and you need to react now while you still have time," he said. "Stay safe, Florida, and keep watching the skies."
The National Weather Service in Tampa Bay warned of tropical storm and hurricane conditions "mainly" Tuesday into Wednesday. Truchelut noted that there is an intensification trend currently ongoing which will continue over the course of Monday as Idalia moves north and becomes a "little bit more organized."
He added that one of the main factors to watch for is the dry air evolution on Monday. Dry air in the mid levels of the atmosphere can impede hurricane development but Truchelut said other weather conditions on Tuesday can set Idalia off and "push it up to a major hurricane."
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Florida bracing for up to 18 inches of rain
Portions of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula could see 2 to 4 inches, and isolated higher totals of 6 inches are possible, the weather service said. Western Cuba could be hit with 3 to 6 inches, and isolated spots could get 10 inches.
As the storm rolls into Florida, portions of the state's Gulf Coast, the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia could see 4 to 8 inches, and some areas could be blasted by up to 18 inches of rain over a span of less than 12 hours Tuesday into Wednesday, AccuWeather said.
Heavy rainfall is also likely to spread into portions of the Carolinas by Wednesday into Thursday, the weather service said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declares state of emergency
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 33 counties ahead of the storm. Emergency management officials were taking precautions "to ensure Florida’s communities, infrastructure and resources are prepared, including those communities that are still recovering following Hurricane Ian," DeSantis said.
Ian crashed through the state last September, killing 150 people in Florida alone and causing damage estimated at more than $100 billion.
DeSantis said authorities were moving resources into areas likely to be slammed by the storm, and he urged residents to ensure "their hurricane supply kit is stocked." The declaration includes almost half the state's 67 counties, stretching from Fort Myers north through Panama City in the Panhandle. Municipalities across the region were providing sandbags in preparation for the storm.
Franklin should become 'major' hurricane Sunday
Hurricane Franklin was 275 miles northeast of Grand Turk Island with sustained winds of 100 mph and forecast to strengthen to a "major" hurricane sometime Sunday, the weather service said. The storm was rolling north-northwest at 8 mph and, while no watches or warnings were in effect, residents and tourists in Bermuda were warned to monitor the system. A major hurricane packs winds of 111 mph or more, the equivalent of a Categories 3, 4 and 5.
"Our emergency personnel remain mobilized should the need arise," Bermuda National Security Minister Michael Weeks said.
Contributing: Dinah Pulver, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tropical Storm Idalia updates: Dangerous Florida hurricane risk mounts