Tropical Storm Idalia is rapidly intensifying as it moves towards Florida's Gulf Coast, posing a significant threat to the state. The storm is expected to become a major hurricane, reaching Category 3 status, with sustained wind speeds of 111-129 mph. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for 46 counties and warned residents to prepare for a "major impact." Evacuation orders have been issued for low-lying coastal areas, and emergency evacuation centers have been activated. The Florida National Guard is mobilizing personnel and resources to support affected areas.
In anticipation of Idalia's arrival, schools in at least 10 Florida counties have announced closures for the week. The Florida Department of Education has listed the affected counties and schools, including Citrus County, Hernando County, Hillsborough County, and others. These closures come as parts of the state are expected to receive up to 12 inches of rain, which could result in flash and urban flooding.
The National Hurricane Center has issued storm surge warnings and watches for various areas along Florida's coast. Storm surge, an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, can be a deadly hazard during hurricanes. The water level could reach as high as 11 feet in some areas, causing significant flooding and damage. The hurricane center has also warned of “life-threatening” storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and scattered flooding.
Tropical Storm Idalia is currently approaching Cuba and is expected to pass near or over western Cuba before heading towards Florida. As the storm moves towards the Gulf Coast, it is projected to become a major hurricane, with potential landfall along the Big Bend Coast area of northern Florida. However, forecasters caution that the storm's track could change, and residents outside the forecast cone should remain vigilant.
Governor DeSantis has urged residents to prepare for power outages, as downed trees and strong winds are expected to cause significant damage. Power companies are pre-staging linemen to restore electricity as quickly as possible. Additionally, the state has mobilized 1,100 National Guardsmen and various resources to assist in rescue and recovery efforts.
One concern raised by Governor DeSantis is fuel contamination at stations supplied by Citgo from the Port of Tampa. The governor warned that contaminated gas, likely mixed with diesel, could leave drivers stranded during evacuations. An investigation is underway, and affected individuals are advised to contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for assistance.
As the storm approaches, the governor emphasizes the importance of remaining vigilant and closely monitoring Idalia's track. Residents along the Gulf Coast, from Tampa to Bay County, should take necessary precautions and stay informed. The hurricane models show a relatively consistent path for the storm, but caution is urged. The potential for significant loss of life and damage necessitates diligent preparation and adherence to evacuation orders.