Nearly all of Florida's west coast is under tornado watch as Hurricane Idalia bears down

Idalia expected to make landfall as Category 4

Idalia is expected to be a Category 4 hurricane by the time it makes landfall along Florida’s Big Bend region this morning, the National Hurricane Center said late last night.

A Category 4 brings with it the possibility of catastrophic damage, structural damage and uprooted trees and utility poles, the hurricane center says. It means some areas might not be habitable for weeks.

With sustained winds of 110 mph, the storm was 1 mph shy of Category 3 on its way to the more powerful Category 4 status, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Sustained winds of 111 mph would put it at Category 3. Sustained winds of 130 or greater would make it a Category 4 storm. Either would mean a shift from hurricane to major hurricane, a status given at Category 3 and higher.

The hurricane was about 125 miles west of Tampa and gaining strength, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving north at 18 mph and was expected to make landfall sometime in the morning.

Florida has people, fuel on standby to respond to post-storm needs

To prepare for Idalia, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the National Guard, and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration.

The governor said the state had staged resources to be ready to respond throughout the state, addressing power needs and threats to residents.

DeSantis said Florida was ready with nearly 30,000 workers who would help restore power and 1.1 million gallons of fuel. 

Florida’s Big Bend, the ‘Nature Coast’, is in Idalia’s path

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s Big Bend is one of the last truly natural places in the state. It’s not Disney World, it’s not South Beach. This is where people go to hunt alligators, fish for tarpon and search for scallops in the shallow waters. Now it’s in the bull’s-eye of a major hurricane.

The Big Bend is where the peninsula merges into the Panhandle, just southeast of the capital, Tallahassee, and well north of the Tampa metro area. Hurricane Idalia would be the first major storm to hit there since Hurricane Easy in 1950, according to the National Hurricane Center.

This is where people go to appreciate nature and be left alone.

“The counties of Florida’s Nature Coast believe that many people — our residents, and those who travel here from far away — think having a good time involves more than expensive restaurants, theme parks, and crowded beaches,” a website devoted to the region says.

Because of the unique shape of the Big Bend coastline, Idalia “is going to bring some pretty massive storm surge,” said University at Albany atmospheric scientist Kristen Corbosiero. “The water can get piled up in that bay. And then the winds of the storm come around, they go around counter-clockwise, that’s going the same direction, the same shape of the bay so that water can just get pushed in there.”