Although Sunshine State locals are very familiar with hurricanes, the Tallahassee office of the National Weather Service (NWS) warned on Tuesday that Idalia will “likely be an unprecedented event for many locations in the Florida Big Bend,” a moniker given to the region where the state’s panhandle connects to the peninsula along the Gulf Coast.
“Looking back through recorded history, NO major hurricanes have ever moved through the Apalachee Bay. When you try to compare this storm to others, DON’T. No one has seen this,” the NWS office added in a post to X.
Hurricane #Idalia will likely be an unprecedented event for many locations in the Florida Big Bend. Looking back through recorded history, NO major hurricanes have ever moved through the Apalachee Bay. When you try to compare this storm to others, DON'T. No one has seen this. pic.twitter.com/m9X8dcarc5
— NWS Tallahassee (@NWSTallahassee) August 29, 2023
A major hurricane is one that is Category 3 or above, according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. As of midday on Tuesday, the forecast called for Idalia’s center to make landfall over the Big Bend region somewhere between Panama City and Tampa early on Wednesday. Still, forecasters have cautioned that the storm’s bands and impacts stretch far beyond just the core. They have also said the predicted track of the storm may shift over time.
Heavy rain, flooding, storm surge up to 15 feet above ground level, strong winds, and even tornados could affect Florida as well as neighboring states. After sweeping across Florida, Idalia may hug the coast and move northeast as a diminished system along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas after passing through Florida before curling out to the Atlantic Ocean by the end of the week.
Idalia, which strengthened into a hurricane early on Tuesday, has already drenched Havana, Cuba, and is intensifying as it moves over the warm waters of the Gulf Coast toward Florida.
11 AM EDT 29 Aug #Idalia strengthens, with catastrophic storm surge expected in the Big Bend region. Residents in these areas should follow any advice or evacuation orders given by local officials. Make sure to stay informed with latest updates at https://t.co/tW4KeGe9uJ pic.twitter.com/MkORCjjpi6
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 29, 2023
An assortment of evacuation orders have been given in counties in and around the Big Bend region. The NWS Tallahassee Office said preparations and evacuations “need to be rushed to completion” before sunset on Tuesday as conditions are expected to “rapidly” deteriorate into the evening.
Emergency shelters are opening up across parts of Florida, utility workers are preparing for widespread power outages, and tolls have been suspended to facilitate travel. In addition, schools are closing across Florida, sandbags are being made available to residents, and Tampa International Airport suspended commercial operations on Tuesday.
“If you are under an evacuation order, remember that you do NOT need to drive hundreds of miles. Find higher ground and listen to your local officials,” Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) said in a post to X.
If you are under an evacuation order, remember that you do NOT need to drive hundreds of miles.
Find higher ground and listen to your local officials. pic.twitter.com/ronwZCfxb4
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) August 29, 2023
The governor paused his presidential campaign and has been working to oversee the state’s efforts to prepare for the storm. Desantis has directed people to follow the Florida Division of Emergency Management for the most up-to-date information and on Tuesday expanded the number of counties under a state of emergency to 49.
President Joe Biden has also approved an emergency declaration for Florida, unlocking federal assistance for state, tribal, and local response efforts related to Idalia.