Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Hurricane Idalia Rapidly Intensifies Into a Category 4 Storm Ahead of Its Historic Landfall


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center (NHC), as of 8:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), Hurricane Idalia has made its historic landfall near Keaton Beach, along the coast of the Florida Big Bend as a Category (Cat) 3 hurricane after downgrading from Cat 4 strength. The National Weather Service (NWS) has indicated that Hurricane Idalia represents an “unprecedented event,” as no major hurricanes on record have ever directly impacted Florida’s Big Bend region.

Idalia’s current maximum sustained winds are estimated to be up to 120 miles per hour (mph) and extend outward up to 25 miles as it tracks north-northeast at 18 mph. Hurricanes in the United States (US) are categorized according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale based on their wind speeds, with a Cat 1 reflecting 74 to 95 mph winds and a Cat 5 indicating hurricanes with wind speeds of 157 mph or higher. The NHC estimates that with Cat 3 strength at landfall, devastating damages will occur, including uprooted trees, severe impacts to well-build homes, power outages from downed lines, and the possibility of neighborhoods becoming uninhabitable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

Hurricane Idalia – GeoColor: NOAA

As of 8:00 a.m. EDT, the NHC reports that catastrophic storm surge between 12 and 16 feet and damaging hurricane-force winds are projected along the Florida Gulf Coast. Destructive waves are anticipated to hit Wakulla and Jefferson County, and residents of Yankeetown, Florida, should be aware of the ongoing Storm Surge Warning. Additionally, the NWS has issued a flood watch through Wednesday evening that includes portions of Florida, including Coastal Dixie, Coastal Franklin, Coastal Gulf, Coastal Jefferson, Coastal Taylor, and Coastal Wakulla counties. NOAA’s Tide Gauge, which measures the coastal height of the ocean, reported a water level of more than six feet above the usual mean at Cedar Key, Florida.

Life-threatening winds are anticipated within Idalia’s path, including inland across northern Florida and in portions of eastern Georgia and southeastern South Carolina. Residents in the storm’s path throughout Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are advised to monitor flood warnings, as flash, urban, and moderate river flooding are all expected from today into Thursday. Idalia is forecasted to impact southern Georgia later today before shifting northeast and east-northeast as it moves along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later today and Thursday.

Major Hurricane Idalia: NWS

As of 9:00 a.m. EDT, more than 240,000 Florida customers were without power. Idalia’s storm surge has prompted record-breaking water levels in Tampa Bay, where levels were nearing roughly four feet as of 5:30 a.m. EDT. High water marks have also been observed in Clearwater Beach and Cedar Key, Florida, as significant storm surge amplifies the flooding risks of coastal communities. Additionally, nearly 12 million people across central and northern Florida and southeast Georgia are under a tornado watch as rain bands stretch across the area – tropical systems often produce tornados embedded in rain bands. An extreme wind warning is also in effect for multiple counties, as life-threatening 115 mph winds are expected as Idalia’s eyewall comes ashore.

Ahead of Idalia, on August 28, President Biden made a federal emergency declaration for the State of Florida, thereby making federal resources available to the state for life safety and sustaining purposes. On August 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expanded the State’s initial Executive Order to include 49 counties under a state of emergency and issued evacuation orders across 22 counties. The Florida National Guard (FLNG) has been fully mobilized, with 3,700 guardsmen positioned across the state for preparedness and response efforts. An additional 1,800 guardsmen are on the way bringing the total to 5,500 prior to the storm landing. The Florida Department of Emergency Management (FDEM) is coordinating the State’s Preparedness and Response efforts and has 100 pallets of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), nearly 500 pallets of bottled water, and more than 20 pallets of tarps available to supplement affected residents and emergency responders.

In anticipation of Hurricane Idalia tracking inland, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper each issued state of emergency declarations for their respective States on August 29.

Twitter: FDEM

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides guidance to individuals preparing for, experiencing, or affected by hurricanes. As Hurricane Idalia brings the potential for a life-threatening storm surge, FEMA encourages individuals to take the necessary precautions to prepare for flash flooding. It is imperative to remember that flash floods can develop with little to no warning and reach full peak in only a few minutes. Authorities suggest individuals seek higher ground, avoid walking or driving in flood waters, and heed the guidance and warnings of local authorities.

During a power outage, FEMA encourages individuals to keep refrigeration sources closed, disconnect appliances to avoid damage from electrical surges, and keep up to date on heating, cooling, and other sheltering locations offered in the community. Power outages introduce many risks to a community’s safety and well-being, including disrupting access to communications, transportation, and other essential services.

Additionally, during and in the aftermath of a disaster, access to drinking water may be limited or cut off. Under these circumstances, it is important to reduce activity levels and stay cool as best as possible to limit water intake while consuming the amount of water your body needs, avoid drinking contaminated water for as long as possible, and limit the consumption of carbonated and caffeinated beverages which may lead to increased dehydration. Upon the guidance of local emergency officials, it may be necessary to treat water to ensure it is safe for drinking, food preparation, or other household needs.

Over the coming days and weeks, Hagerty’s Blog Team will continue to provide guidance on making effective preparations for long-term recovery, as well as continuing our situational updates.