Hurricane Idalia, one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S. mainland in years, has made landfall over Florida’s Big Bend region early Wednesday morning, bringing destructive winds, torrential rain, and life-threatening storm surge.
According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Idalia was a Category 4 hurricane when it reached the coast near Cedar Key, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (210 km/h) and gusts of 160 mph (260 km/h). The storm is expected to weaken as it moves inland, but will still pose a serious threat to millions of people in its path.
Idalia has already knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers across Florida, with more outages likely as the storm moves further inland. The NHC has warned of “widespread extensive to devastating wind damage” from Idalia, especially near the coast and in areas where the eyewall passes.
The storm is also dumping heavy rainfall across Florida, with isolated amounts of up to 20 inches (51 cm) possible. This could cause flash flooding and river flooding in many areas, especially in low-lying and urban locations. The NHC has issued a flash flood watch for most of the state, as well as parts of Georgia and Alabama.
One of the most dangerous aspects of Idalia is its storm surge, which could reach 12 to 16 feet (3.7 to 4.9 m) above normal tide levels along the coast. This could cause catastrophic flooding and erosion in coastal communities, especially during high tide. The NHC has urged residents in storm surge-prone areas to evacuate as soon as possible, as water levels could rise rapidly and cut off escape routes.
A tornado watch is also in effect for parts of central and western Florida, including Tampa, until 6:00 a.m. ET Wednesday. Idalia could spawn tornadoes and waterspouts as it interacts with land and warm waters. These could cause additional damage and injuries in some areas.
Idalia is the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Michael in 2018, which was also a Category 4 storm. Idalia is also the strongest hurricane to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast since Hurricane Charley in 2004, which was a Category 4 storm as well.
Idalia is expected to move across northern Florida and southern Georgia on Wednesday, before turning northeastward and moving across the Carolinas and Virginia on Thursday. The storm could still bring strong winds, heavy rain, and flooding to these areas, as well as parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Friday.
The NHC has advised residents in the affected areas to follow the instructions of local officials and emergency managers, and to stay indoors until the storm passes. Idalia is a dangerous and potentially deadly storm that should not be taken lightly.
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