Western Florida is bracing for Hurricane Idalia's wrath, with mandatory evacuations underway in some areas expected to be hit, while others pile up sandbags to keep her effects out as much as possible.
The storm intensified to a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday as it approached Florida's Gulf Coast, and forecasters say it may even come ashore Wednesday morning as a Category 3 with winds up to 115 miles per hour.
But the winds aren't the deadliest part of storms, Scripps News Meteorologist Scott Withers said. It's the storm surge that can make Idalia life-threatening in areas the storm isn't even expected to hit hard, like Tampa and Fort Myers.
Storm surge is the abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm, measured as the height of the water above the normal predicted astronomical tide, according to NOAA. The National Hurricane Center says storm surge is often the greatest hurricane threat along the coast to life and property, and for Idalia, the Taylor County Sheriff's Office — a coastal county southwest of Tallahassee — says the storm surge is "projected as non-survivable" along the coastal regions.
Some Gulf Coast areas could see up to 15 feet of storm surge from Idalia, like the coastal city of Cedar Key about 130 miles north of Tampa. The small town with 800 full-time residents and only one road in and out is expected to be the target of Idalia's path, and its mayor is begging residents to get out.
But despite the town being under mandatory evacuation, some say they're riding it out, like a motel manager who said she's never seen the business flood, even though a Category 3 has never hit the area before. Others have boarded up their businesses and homes to hopefully reduce the damage from the storm surge.
Elsewhere, floodwaters are already hitting cities like Tampa and Fort Myers, which is still reeling from Hurricane Ian last year that left more than 100 dead.
Many roads are covered in water, and fallen trees are blocking others, with the storm surge expected to make the conditions much worse.
People in the low-lying city of Tampa, which could see up to 9 feet of storm surge, spent Tuesday grabbing around 30,000 sandbags to keep water levels low.
Though the storm isn't expected to make landfall in Tampa, it can wobble in the 90-degree waters and change its direction, which is why forecasters are asking residents to heed evacuation and other warnings in all coastal areas.
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