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Tropical Storm Idalia forms in the Gulf of Mexico on a possible track toward the US, forecasters say

Tropical Storm Idalia forms in the Gulf of Mexico on a possible track toward the US, forecasters say

MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Idalia formed Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico on a potential track to come ashore as a hurricane in the southern U.S., the National Hurricane Center said.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, the storm was about 80 miles (129 kilometers) east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, moving north at 2 mph (3.2 kph) with highest sustained winds of 40 mph (64 kph), forecasters said. Hurricanes have winds of 74 mph (119 kph) and above.

Forecasters said they expected Idalia to become a hurricane on Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico and then curve northeast toward the west coast of Florida. Initial forecasts indicated that Idalia could approach Florida on Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane.

Large parts of the western coast of Florida are at risk of seawater surging onto land and flooding communities when a tropical storm or hurricane approaches. That part of Florida is very vulnerable to storm surges, Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, said Sunday.

“So it will not take a strong system or a direct hit to produce significant storm surge,” he said. “So if you’re anywhere along the Florida Peninsula, western Florida Peninsula, so let’s say from about Fort Myers northward to the Panhandle, you’ve really got to be paying attention.”

At the popular Bridge Tender Inn in Bradenton Beach, a large tent covering the tiki bar area where musicians play might have to be taken down in preparation for Idalia, assistant manager Shannon Dunnan said Sunday.

“If we get a big storm that hits, it would probably rip that tent in half,” she said.

But at this point, plans are for the establishment to stay open, Dunnan said.

The storm was not expected to menace southwest Florida, where deadly Hurricane Ian struck last year.

Mexico’s National Meteorological Service on Sunday warned of intense to torrential rains showering the Yucatan Peninsula, with winds as fast as 55 mph (89 kph).

It said the storm could cause anything from powerful waves to flooding in southern Mexico, mainly around coastal cities in the Yucatán and Quintana Roo states. It asked citizens to stay alert.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday in a post on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, that he has directed state emergency officials begin preparations for a storm.

“Residents should remain vigilant and prepare for possible impacts early next week,” said the Republican governor, who is a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.

Florida emergency officials on Sunday urged residents to keep their vehicle gas tanks at least half-full in case they need to evacuate.

“This will ensure you can evacuate tens of miles inland to a safe location should the need arise,” the Florida Division of Emergency Management said on social media.

Thirty-three Florida counties are under a state of emergency, the agency said in a separate statement.

So far this year, the U.S. East Coast has been spared from cyclones but in the west, Tropical Storm Hilary caused widespread flooding, mudslides and road closures earlier this month in Mexico, California, Nevada and points to the north.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said the 2023 hurricane season would be far busier than initially forecast, partly because of extremely warm ocean temperatures. The season runs through Nov. 30, with August and September typically the peak.

Associated Press writer Jeff Martin contributed to this report from Woodstock, Georgia.