Florida braces for the arrival of Idalia, forecasted to be a major hurricane

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MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Idalia intensified and was expected to be a major hurricane when it reaches Florida’s Gulf Coast later this week, the National Hurricane Center said Monday, as officials declared states of emergencies in dozens of counties and ordered some evacuations in preparation for potentially life-threatening storm surges.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned of a “major impact” to the state, noting that what was originally forecast to be nothing stronger than a tropical storm was now predicted to become a Category 3 hurricane.

Idalia would be the first storm to hit Florida this hurricane season and a potentially big blow to the state, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Ian almost a year ago.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 46 counties, a broad swath that stretches across the northern half of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast. The state has mobilized 1,100 National Guard members, who have 2,400 high-water vehicles and 12 aircraft at their disposal for rescue and recovery efforts.

Large parts of the western coast of Florida are at risk of storm surges and floods anytime a storm of this magnitude approaches.

“Now, the property — we can rebuild someone’s home,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday. “You can’t unring the bell, though, if somebody stays in harm’s way and does battle with Mother Nature. This is not something that you want to do battle with.”

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning Monday from Longboat Key in the Sarasota area to the Holocene River, up past Tampa Bay. Pasco County, located north of Tampa, ordered a mandatory evacuation for low-lying areas, areas prone to flooding and residents living in manufactured or mobile homes. More evacuation orders were expected in other areas.

President Joe Biden spoke to DeSantis on Monday morning, telling the Florida governor that he had approved an emergency declaration for the state, the White House said. DeSantis is running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

At 11 a.m. EDT Monday, the storm was about 80 miles (125 kilometers) off the western tip of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) the hurricane center said. Idalia was moving north at 8 mph (13 kph). On Tuesday, it was expected to turn northeast at a faster pace, reaching Florida’s western coast as a dangerous major hurricane on Wednesday.

So far this year, the U.S. East Coast has been spared from cyclones. But in the West, Tropical Storm Hilary caused widespread flooding, mudslides and road closures earlier this month in Mexico, California, Nevada and points to the north.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said the 2023 hurricane season would be far busier than initially forecast, partly because of extremely warm ocean temperatures. The season runs through Nov. 30, with August and September typically the peak.

Mexico’s National Meteorological Service on Sunday warned of intense to torrential rains showering the Yucatan Peninsula, with winds up to 55 mph (89 kph). It said the storm could cause powerful waves and flooding in southern Mexico, mainly around coastal cities in the states of Yucatán and Quintana Roo, where the resort city of Cancun is located. Local governments were preparing shelters.

Meanwhile, Franklin became the first major hurricane of the season, strengthening into a Category 4 storm on Monday as it charged through open waters off the U.S. East Coast.

A tropical storm watch was issued for Bermuda.

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