Hurricane Idalia’s potentially catastrophic storm surge to flood Gulf Coast as soon as tonight

By bkearney, rwebb, adimichele and vballard |
Sun Sentinel
PUBLISHED: August 29, 2023

Hurricane Idalia is gaining strength over the hot waters of the Gulf of Mexico ahead of a projected landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday as a major Category 3 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. The result could be catastrophic storm surge.

Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions will begin tonight along Florida’s west coast, the National Hurricane Center said in its 2 p.m. update. Idalia’s squalls are currently reaching the Lower Keys and parts of Southwest Florida.

Idalia, which became a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday, was 130 miles west of the Dry Tortugas and 240 miles south-southwest of Tampa as of 2 p.m., traveling north at 15 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

Evacuation orders and school closures already were in effect along the Gulf Coast. If the hurricane arrives during high tide, storm surge could reach 8 to 12 feet in some areas, Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

“If you’re there in that storm surge, you’re putting your life in jeopardy,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “Please heed those orders. You don’t have to leave the state. You don’t have to go hundreds of miles, you can go to a shelter in a different part of your county, go to a friend’s house in an area that is not going to be susceptible to the storm surge, or a hotel — all these things are good to do.”

The National Hurricane Center said that storm surge could reach 10 to 15 feet in the area between the Aucilla River and Yankeetown in the Big Bend region. Yankeetown to Chassahowitzka could see 7 to 11 feet. Tampa Bay could see 4 to 7 feet. Areas as far south at Chocoloskee could see 4 feet of surge.

National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Winn said that storm surge would begin in the Tampa area between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. tonight, which generally lines up with low tide the mouth of the bay and a falling tide inside the bay.

He said the Big Bend area, which is predicted to be the hardest hit, will see surge start at 3 a.m. on Wednesday. High tide in that area is around 2:30 a.m.

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