Hurricane Idalia is expected to make landfall in several parts of Florida on Wednesday, with the potential for life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds — though exactly where the storm could make landfall remains uncertain.
Idalia strengthened to a hurricane Tuesday morning in the Gulf of Mexico as it made its way toward the Sunshine State. The National Hurricane Center said Idalia could bring sustained winds of up to 120 mph on its path to Florida’s western coast, which would make it a Category 3 hurricane.
A Category 3 hurricane is defined as a major hurricane, meaning “devastating damage will occur,” according to the Hurricane Center. A hurricane is intensified into a Category 3 storm once it hits sustained winds of more than 111 mph.
Uncertainty remains over where Idalia could make landfall, with any small wobble bringing the possibility of altering the storm’s curve and increasing its storm surge.
Forecasters are predicting Idalia could come ashore early Wednesday as a Category 3 system along Florida’s Big Bend region, which is loosely defined as south of where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula north of Tampa.
Storm surge in Florida’s Big Bend Region, especially between the Aucilla River and Yankeetown, could reach up to 15 feet.
In Levy County — which includes Cedar Key, Yankeetown, Fowlers Bluff and Fanning Springs in Florida’s Big Bend — officials ordered a mandatory evacuation by 4 p.m. Tuesday. Residents and visitors of Cedar Key were asked to be off the island before the storm surge arrives because the island’s bridges cannot withstand the storm conditions.
The Big Bend region may also experience “destructive life-threatening winds” that are likely to spread to other portions of Florida’s Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said. Those strong winds are predicted to spread inland across portions of northern Florida and southern Georgia.
The National Weather Center Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event” as no other major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay adjacent to the Big Bend region.
Other parts of Florida’s west coast, the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia could also see areas of flash flooding Tuesday into Wednesday. Cities and areas along Florida’s western coast, including Englewood, Indian Pass, Tampa Bay and Chokoloskee, are under storm surge warnings or watches.
At least 21 counties along the western coast of Florida were under evacuation notices, with eight of those counties under mandatory evacuation. The Hurricane Center urged residents to follow the advice or evacuation orders given by local officials.
“If you are under an evacuation order, remember that you do NOT need to drive hundreds of miles,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Find higher ground and listen to your local officials.”
DeSantis declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm in 46 counties. He said the state is activating 5,500 members of the Florida National Guard, staging 200,000 gallons of fuel, and preparing seven urban search-and-rescue teams.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it also has activated its Response Coordination Center and deployed two incident management assistance teams to Florida.
Forecasters said the flooding could spread into parts of the eastern Carolinas Wednesday into Thursday. Both Georgia and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.
Meanwhile, heavy rainfall, flash flooding and landslides from Idalia are also expected across portions of western Cuba.
The Associated Press contributed.