I first mentioned the possibility of a storm impacting Florida last week to my wife who has upcoming travel plans. At that time, my advice was to keep an eye on this. A week later and the northern part of Florida is facing a potential hurricane by midweek. As of Sunday morning, the trends are ominous and increasingly worrisome. Here are four things you need to know right now about the storm.
It will likely reach hurricane status and could rapidly intensify
At the time of writing, the storm is still designated as Tropical Depression 10, however, by the time you read this or soon thereafter, I expect the storm to be Tropical Storm Idalia (E-dal-yah). The official National Hurricane Forecast track is shown in the map above. Earlier in the week, there were signs that a disturbance near the Bay of Campeche could develop. From a meteorological standpoint, there were questions about how long it would sit over land near its origin point and whether wind shear would disrupt eventual development. Those questions have clarified.
The storm developed rather robustly on Saturday and seemed to stay far enough off of the land mass to extract its fuel, warm water. The 4 am National Hurricane Center forecast discussion has some omnious wording by my colleague Eric Blake. He wrote, “There’s a notable risk of rapid intensification while the system moves across the record warm eastern and northeastern Gulf of Mexico….The new NHC forecast is raised from the previous one, near or above the model consensus, and could be too low.” The storm will meander in the same area most of Sunday in part due to a Franklin in the Atlantic affecting the steering currents. It will eventually start to lift northward. Black went on to write, “I’m reluctant to make any big changes to the forecast until we get more in-situ data, but the upward overnight model trend certainly bears watching.”
The Gulf of Mexico is a powder keg
As the storm moves northward into the Gulf of Mexico, it will likely be a hurricane. Our best guidance suggests a potential landfall near the Big Bend region of the Florida Panhandle and then a slight northeastward turn. In the coming day or so, confidence in the track guidance will improve. Hurricane Hunter aircraft are flying in (and over) the storm today to collect more data for the computer models and forecasters. One fact is clear, and it is a present danger too. The Gulf of Mexico waters are quite hot and have been all season.
This potential powder keg has worried many of us because it is a wild card. If what is likely to become Hurricane Idalia can overcome wind shear, there is plenty of “fuel” supply to tap into. If you live anywhere along the panhandle and western Florida coast, storm planning should be on your “to-do” list today. If the storm does rapidly intensify, which is an increase of wind speeds of about 35 mph in a twenty four hour period, your preparation window could shrink.
Expect tropical storm impacts in Georgia and South Carolina
Irrespective of track, parts of southern Georgia and South Carolina will experience tropical storm impacts which include gusty winds, heavy rainfall, and the potential for tornadoes. The American GFS model favors a track that brings the storm further into northern Georgia, including parts of the metropolitan Atlanta area. However, the European model veers the storm more towards the Augusta-Savannah-South Carolina area. The official National Hurricane Center forecast, which should always be the basis for your decisions, seems to split the difference right now.
Beware of the “I” storms
In recent years, the ninth named or “I” storm has been a problem. In 2021, Hurricane Ida ravaged parts of the Gulf Coast before moving further inland and northeastward. In 2022, Hurricane Ian devastated much of southwest Florida. Climatologically speaking, late August is typically when the ninth named storm is expected. Because they typically form in late August or early September (around the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season,” it is not surprising that the “I” storm has the most retired names.
It appars that a late Tuesday to Wednesday time frame is likely for landfall, but there are many meteorological elements to monitor in the coming hours and days. The storm will be a threat, regardless of category, but the potential certainly exists for rapid intensification, a process all too familar in Gulf of Mexico storms in recent years.