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Idalia strengthens into a hurricane off Cuba as it churns toward Florida

Members of the Tampa, Fla., Parks and Recreation Department help residents with sandbags on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. Residents along Florida's gulf coast are making preparations for the effects of Tropical Storm Idalia.
Chris O'Meara
/
AP
Members of the Tampa, Fla., Parks and Recreation Department help residents with sandbags on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. Residents along Florida's gulf coast are making preparations for the effects of Tropical Storm Idalia.

Updated August 29, 2023 at 5:23 AM ET

Idalia strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane early Tuesday as forecasters warned that it will grow into a "major hurricane" by the time it reaches Florida. Officials are warning residents in the state to prepare for severe weather, including a potentially deadly storm surge.

Idalia was carrying maximum sustained winds of 75 mph as it was located about 85 miles north of Cuba's western tip at 5 a.m. ET, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected to batter parts of that country Tuesday morning.

Forecasters say Idalia will then move north through the Gulf of Mexico, where it will strengthen into a powerful hurricane before coming ashore in Florida midweek.

"Idalia is expected to intensify into an extremely dangerous major hurricane before landfall along the west coast or Big Bend region of Florida," the National Weather Service said in a tweet.

A chief concern with Idalia is storm surge, which occurs when a storm's strong winds push seawater above normal levels and onto coastal land. The Tampa Bay area could see 4 to 7 feet of storm surge from Idalia, according to forecasters.

By the time it reaches Florida's coast, Idalia is predicted to be a "major" hurricane — meaning it will be a Category 3 hurricane or higher.

How Florida is preparing for its first hurricane of the season

Hurricane and storm surge warningswere in effect for parts of Florida on Monday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has put 46 counties under a state of emergency and announced a raft of other storm preparedness measures, including the mobilization of 1,100 Florida National Guard personnel.

"This is gonna be a major hurricane. This is gonna be a powerful hurricane, and this is absolutely gonna impact the state of Florida in many, many different ways," DeSantis said during a Monday morning press conference.

The White House said President Biden and DeSantis spoke Monday about preparations for Idalia. Biden said he approved an emergency declaration for Florida and added that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had deployed personnel and supplies to the region ahead of the storm.

During his press conference, DeSantis warned residents to prepare for power outages and said there would likely be evacuation orders in counties along the Gulf Coast.

"All the barrier islands, places that are low-lying along the coast, you are going to be told to evacuate," DeSantis said, adding that that could mean relocating as few as tens of miles inland.

By early afternoon, parts of Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties were already under evacuation orders, member station WUSF reported.

"We can't emphasize enough that you need to take this storm seriously," said David DeCarlo, director of Hernando County Emergency Management, according to the station.

Tampa International Airport announced that it would suspend commercial operations starting at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday and anticipated reopening Thursday morning after the storm passed.

"Some cargo and private aircraft operations could continue overnight, but all air traffic will cease by 7 a.m. Tuesday morning," a post on its website read. "The Airport, including the Main Terminal and Airsides will be closed to all visitors and is not equipped to function as a shelter."

A number of Florida school districts had already announced closures on Tuesday, and the state's Department of Health was working to ensure residents could fill their prescriptions early.

According to WUSF, several cities and towns including Tampa were providing residents with free sandbags to prepare for the incoming storm.

An old car passes by in Havana while dark clouds loom due to Tropical Storm Idalia on Monday.
Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
An old car passes by in Havana while dark clouds loom due to Tropical Storm Idalia on Monday.

Idalia forecast to become a hurricane as it passes near or over Cuba

Before Idalia reaches Florida, the storm will pass over or near western Cuba.

The National Hurricane Center said it expects Idalia to cross the island nation late Monday. The Cuban province of Pinar del Río was under a hurricane warning, and the Isla de la Juventud was under a tropical storm warning.

Forecasters said parts of Cuba could see as much as 4 to 6 feet of storm surge and between 4 and 10 inches of rain, which could produce flash flooding and landslides.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
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