Forecasters said Tropical Storm Idalia grew stronger overnight and could rapidly intensify, feeding from extremely warm waters as it takes aim at a long stretch of Florida’s west coast.
In Key Biscayne, officials were on alert for flooding that might be worsened by Idalia, because of overlap with King Tide and a full moon Wednesday.
“The bottom line is that rapid intensification is becoming increasingly likely before landfall,” said Eric Blake, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, who said the system is predicted to reach “major” Category 3 hurricane status before landfall on Florida’s west coast Wednesday.
One tricky element is that because the projected northward path parallels the Florida coast, even a small deviation in the storm track “could cause a big change in Idalia’s landfall location,” Blake said.
At 11 a.m. Eastern Time, the center of Idalia was 80 miles south-southwest of Cuba’s western tip, heading north at 8 mph. Top winds were 65 mph.
Locally, Key Biscayne Fire Chief Eric Lang said Sunday that although the storm would stay far from the island, department heads were reviewing preparedness plans with a focus on flooding.
“If we happen to get a round of heavy rain near high tide, flooding could happen quickly,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the Rosenstiel School on Virginia Key.
Large parts of the western coast of Florida are at risk of seawater surging onto land, said Jamie Rhome, the deputy director of the hurricane center.
“So it will not take a strong system or a direct hit to produce significant storm surge,” he said. “So if you’re anywhere along the Florida Peninsula, western Florida Peninsula, so let’s say from about Fort Myers northward to the Panhandle, you’ve really got to be paying attention.”
Florida emergency officials on Sunday urged residents to keep their vehicle gas tanks at least half-full in case they need to evacuate. Some shelters will open today in the Tampa Bay area, officials said.
Florida has mobilized 1,100 National Guard members, and “they have at their disposal 2,400 high-water vehicles, as well as 12 aircraft that can be used for rescue and recovery efforts,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.