Hurricane Idalia (E-dal-ya) is a storm that I have been concerned about for over a week as models hinted at the possibilities even then. Forecasts have been remarkably consistent in recent days, and the hurricane is still on track to make landfall Wednesday somewhere in the Big Bend area of northern Florida or the upper western peninsuala. My colleague Jim Cantore is reporting from the Cedar Key area, which is usually a good indicator of projected landfall location. Here are five things that you need to know right now.
The hurricane is on final approach to the U.S.
Hurricane Idalia meandered south of Cuba for a few days but is now full steam ahead towards the United States. The Tuesday morning discussion by the National Hurricane Center notes, “The hurricane is accelerating northward this morning…. Idalia should move faster to the north or north-northeast through landfall on Wednesday between mid-level ridging over Florida and a trough dropping into the western Gulf of Mexico.”
Rapid intensification is likely
The storm is expected to reach at least Category 3 status before landfall. There is plenty of warm, deep water ahead of the storm. Additionally, an upper-level trough moves away from the Gulf of Mexico as high pressure ridging becomes established. What does all of that meteorology jargon mean? Conditions will be quite favorable for rapid intensification, which is an increase in wind speeds of around 35 mph or more in less than a day. For this reason, preparations should be winding down at this point. Many people are caught off guard by rapidly intensifying storms. They may go to bed to a Category 2 storm and wake up to a Category 4 hurricane.
Impacts are not lines or dots on a map
The U.S. public and stakeholders are immersed in the inertia of using the Saffir-Simpson scale and looking at the “cone of uncertainty.” While they are useful and have a place, my experiences as a meteorologist, science communicator and atmospheric sciences proferssor reveal that they can both be misinterpreted by the public. Impacts are far more important than category, and they extend well beyond imaginary lines or a set of dots on a map. Just yesterday, a person commented on one of my social media pages aboout Hurricane Ian (2022) being a “surprise” for southwestern Florida. I reminded her that region was almost always within the “cone,” meaning there was roughly a sixty-six percent chance the center could be too. Such odds should warrant preparation even if the center of the cone is elsewhere.
The graphics tweeted by Brian McNoldy are, in my opion, much more useful in conveying hurricane impacts. The four-panel display shows the wind, storm surge, flooding and tornado threat in a way that removes any misinterpration about the breadth of potential impacts. I urge media outlets, the public, and decisionmakers to utilize these produects more often. McNoldy, a hurricane expert at the University of Miami, reminds us they have been operational within the National Weather Service for nine years.
Multiple states will be affected by Hurricane Idalia
While the immediate threat is landfall along the Florida coast, multiple states will be impacted by Hurricane Idalia. I am very concerned that the storm will still be at hurricane strength as it moves into southeastern Georgia. We have experience with that happening with Hurricane Michael (2018), and it was devastating for my state. The Georgia and Carolina coasts could also see hurricane or tropical storm conditions in the Wednesday to Thursday timeframe.
The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season looms
The “9th” storm of the year is right on schedule, and the peak of the season is still a couple of weeks away. With ocean temperatures running so warm this year, it is important to monitor the tropics closely. Storms like Idalia have the potential to take or change lives, which is why you never see me “cheer” for them. By contrary, I usually have a pit in my stomach knowing what they are likely to do.