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Tropical Storm Idalia forecast to become a major Category 3 hurricane ahead of Florida landfall

Tropical Storm Idalia forecast to become a major Category 3 hurricane ahead of Florida landfall

A strengthening Tropical Storm Idalia is now forecast to become a major Category 3 hurricane by early Wednesday ahead of a projected landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Idalia (pronounced ee-DAHL-ya) is expected to be come a hurricane Monday night. The forecast path has the storm curling north toward Florida’s Gulf Coast Tuesday into Wednesday.

The most current National Hurricane Center forecast discussion predicts top winds could reach 115 mph, making it potentially a Category 3 hurricane at landfall. Major hurricanes are classified as Category 3 and above.

The NHC forecast for the season predicted two to five major hurricanes for the 2023 Atlantic season.

In the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Franklin, located near Bermuda, strengthened into a Category 4 storm Monday, the Atlantic’s first major hurricane of the season.

At 11 a.m., Franklin’s maximum sustained winds were at 145 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Swells from Franklin are forecast to impact the U.S. East Coast with life-threatening surf and rip currents this week, forecasters said.

Ahead of Idalia, 46 Florida counties are under a state of emergency, including some on the northeast coast. A tropical storm warning was in effect Monday for Florida’s Dry Tortugas, while Pinar del Rio, Cuba, was under a hurricane warning.

The state of emergency for Tropical Storm Idalia does not currently include Broward, Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties. But South Florida could start seeing gusty winds, heavy rainfall and hazardous marine conditions beginning Monday and continuing through Thursday, according to the National Weather Service Miami.

In its 11 a.m. update, the NHC issued a new batch of watches and warnings for Florida:

A Hurricane Warning has been issued from the Middle of Longboat Key northward to the Ochlockonee River, including Tampa Bay.
A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued from Chokoloskee northward to the Middle of Longboat Key, and from west of the Lockheed River westward to Indian Pass.
A Storm Surge Warning has been issued from Englewood northward to the Ochlockonee River, including Tampa Bay.
A Storm Surge Watch has been issued from Mouth of the St. Mary’s River to Altamaha Sound, Georgia.
A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the Atlantic coast of Florida and Georgia from Sebastian Inlet, Florida northward to Altamaha Sound, Georgia.

The Tampa area could see tropical force winds as early as Tuesday morning. The storm also could coincide with South Florida’s king tides next week, adding to already elevated tides and making flooding more likely.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, Idalia was located about 80 miles south of the western tip of Cuba, moving north at 8 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were at 65 mph. Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center.

At a briefing Monday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned of the storm strengthening. “We’ve seen this before with Hurricane Michael, that continued to gather strength. So this is going to be a major impact … please prepare accordingly … Anybody on the west coast of Florida, you could see major major impacts.”

“If you’re on barrier islands, you’re going to get some type of storm surge,” he said, pointing out that Pinellas, Pasco, Levy and Dixie Counties were particularly vulnerable, considering the current track models of the storm.

The NHC is forecasting possible surges of 7 to 11 feet from the Homosassa area north to the Aucilla River, south of Tallahassee.

“Most fatalities are with the surge … This is not something you want to do battle with,” he said.

He also told Floridians on the west coast and inland, in the Tallahassee area, to anticipate losing power.

The governor anticipates significant evacuation orders on the west coast.

“I urge Floridians to heed the directives from local officials … There are going to be evacuation orders issued in all these Gulf coast counties … all the barrier islands, places that are low-lying on the coast, you are going to be told to evaluate.

“Keep in mind, if you’re told to evacuate, you do not need to drive hundreds of miles. You do not to leave to leave the state of Florida. You need to go to higher ground. In almost every instance, you can go 10s of miles to a shelter, to a hotel, to a friend’s house, whatever works for you. And you’ll be able to ride out the storm.”

At a previous press conference, Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida Division of Emergency Management, added that Floridians who are medically-dependent or have special needs should be particularly aware of the likelihood of power outages, and can receive help at Floridadisaster.org/snr.

Floridians can also get supply-kit info at Floridadisaster.org/kit.

Guthrie reiterated that Hurricane Ian last year proved that storm surge kills, and that evacuating a small distance inland or away from an impact zone can make a difference.

MORE: Will Hurricane Idalia hit Tampa and St. Petersburg? Here’s the latest forecast track

Sections of Florida’s west coast could experience flooding. The 46 counties declared in the state of emergency: Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Nassau, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia, and Wakulla counties.

At the news conference Monday morning, DeSantis said that the state was staging 2,500 guardsmen and airmen, with 3,000 more being mobilized for a total of 5,500. The deployment has 2,400 high-water vehicles and 12 aircraft at their disposal for rescue and recovery efforts.

Guthrie previously addressed a fuel contamination issue at the Port of Tampa resulting in fuel contaminated with diesel fuel being shipped to gas stations in the Tampa area.

“I’d like to assure Floridians that we are coordinating here at the EOC with everyone from petroleum retailers to the ports themselves to ensure that the disruption will not be widespread or prolonged and that residents can have seamless access to fuel.”

There is concern over the contamination occurring as residents fuel up their cars and generators in anticipation of the storm.

” Any fuel purchased after 10:00 a.m. on Saturday August 27, at stations supplied by Citgo from the Port of Tampa has a strong likelihood of being contaminated with diesel fuel,” said a release from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The governor’s reminders to be prepared come just as the state opens its second “sales tax holiday” of the year for hurricane-related supplies. Florida’s “disaster preparedness” tax holiday continues through Sept. 8.

According to the News Service of Florida, DeSantis submitted a request for aid Sunday night to the White House and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration, ordering federal assistance on Monday.

In addition to Hurricane Franklin, forecasters are also monitoring a tropical wave that is forecast to move off the west coast of Africa and over the Atlantic in the next couple of days. As of 11 a.m. Monday, it was given a 50% chance of developing.

The National Hurricane Center has been predicting an “above-normal” 2023 hurricane season as a result of ongoing record-breaking sea surface temperatures that continue to fight off the tempering effects of El Niño.

While sea surface temperatures have remained hot for longer than anticipated, El Niño’s effects, which typically reduce hurricane chances, have emerged more slowly.

The NHC, which operates under the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, has forecast 14-21 named storms, including 6-11 hurricanes, and two to five major hurricanes.

The next storm to form would be Jose.