Florida faces major hurricane threat as Idalia strengthens
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Florida faces major hurricane threat as Idalia strengthens

Florida faces major hurricane threat as Idalia strengthens

Depending on its landfall and route, Idalia at hurricane strength could cause up to $10bn in damage and losses


Tropical Storm Idalia is set to strengthen as it heads north through the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to strike Florida’s west coast Wednesday as a tree-snapping major hurricane.

Idalia’s winds held at 65 miles (105 kilometres) per hour and are forecast to reach Category 3 strength at 115 mph as the storm makes landfall Wednesday after hitting western Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 11 a.m. New York time.

Depending on its exact track, Idalia could cause up to $10bn in damage and losses, according to a disaster modeling firm Enki Research.

Idalia could see rapid intensification

“Steady to rapid intensification is predicted beginning Tuesday,” Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, wrote in an analysis. The forecast “calls for Idalia to reach major hurricane strength before landfall along the Gulf coast of Florida.”

Rapid intensification means Idalia’s winds could jump by 35 mph or more in a day, a burst of strength that sometimes takes officials and residents by surprise as a storm approaches.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis extended his emergency declaration to cover 46 counties, up from 33 earlier this weekend. President Joe Biden also approved federal emergency declarations for Florida, allowing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts.

Florida prepares for landfall

Evacuation orders were coming for barrier islands and low-lying areas areas along the state’s Gulf Coast, DeSantis said at a press conference Monday. Because the storm’s track can change before it makes landfall, he warned residents all along the coast, from Tampa to the Florida Panhandle, to be prepared.

“We can’t unring the bell if someone stays and does battle with Mother Nature,” DeSantis said. “This is not something you want to do battle with.”

Tens of thousands of power linemen and hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel are being pre-positioned, along with urban search and rescue teams, DeSantis said. There are some 2,500 National Guard and Airmen in the area and an additional 3,000 are on the way.

“Be prepared to lose power,” DeSantis said.

In addition to its winds, Idalia could push as much as 11 feet of water onto the shore from the Aucilla River to Chassahowitzka, Florida, and up to 7 feet into Tampa Bay, as well as drench a large area as far north as the Carolinas with up to 8 inches of rain. Flooding downpours that could spark landslides are also expected across western Cuba as the storm moves north.

Barge traffic moving fuel along the US Gulf Coast to Florida is down, according to Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Fuel Marketers Association. Meanwhile, demand is surging for gasoline as Floridians fill up for possible evacuations as well as for diesel for backup power generation, Bowman said.

Florida is mainly supplied via waterborne shipments from refiners in Texas and Louisiana. The Coast Guard has closed the ports of Tampa, Manatee, St Petersburg and Fort Myers to incoming traffic in advance of Idalia.

The exact spot Idalia will come ashore isn’t certain. “It cannot be emphasised enough that only a small deviation in the track could cause a significant change in Idalia’s landfall location,” Brown wrote.

Hurricane Ian

If it reaches forecast strength, Idalia would be the first major hurricane to hit Florida since last September when Hurricane Ian struck the western part of the state as a Category 4 storm, killing at least 150 people and causing more than $112bn in damage, the hurricane center said.

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.

However, Idalia may affect agriculture across the South, as well as bring widespread power outages and snarl land and air travel.

Meanwhile to the east, Hurricane Franklin’s winds have reached 115 mph, making a Category 3 storm as it churns in the Atlantic southwest of Bermuda. Despite its power, Franklin is currently forecast to miss any inhabited areas and head out to sea.

Also read: Fires, hurricanes, dangerous heat: The US is reeling from a string of disasters

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