Idalia strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday morning and is forecast to become an “extremely dangerous” major hurricane before making landfall on Wednesday.
The storm’s path has shifted west slightly, with landfall now expected in Taylor County. Still, much of the Tampa Bay area remains under a hurricane warning and Tampa Bay is under a storm surge warning.
Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee and Hernando counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders for some areas and voluntary evacuations for other zones. If you’re evacuating you can find a local shelter here. Here’s the latest:
7:11 p.m. DeSantis: Big Bend could be devastated
A storm of this magnitude has not made landfall in this specific region of Florida since the late 1800s, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday evening, referring to Florida’s Big Bend area, where Hurricane Idalia could bring devastating damage to a region less accustomed to hurricanes than other more storm-tested parts of the state.
”It is likely to cause a lot of damage. That is just a reality. So prepare for that,” he said. The Category 2 storm is packing winds of over 100 miles per hour as it continues to gain strength about 190 miles southwest of Tampa and almost 300 miles south of Tallahassee. “This is crunch time right now. We are going to be hit by a major hurricane,” DeSantis said. “The eye will arrive onshore sometime tomorrow morning most likely, and it is going to have major impacts, particular in Florida’s Big Bend region.”
Warnings of storm surges in the area are the most concerning, state officials said. An abnormal rise of water generated by the storm could reach 10 to 15 feet in some areas of the Big Bend, DeSantis said. ”If you are there when that hits, it is going to be very difficult to survive that.” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said the storm is not “something to be messing around with.” He added there is great concern about how Cedar Key, a small island city in the Big Bend region, will be impacted by storm surge, which could reach up to 12 to 15 feet there. ”We got to act now,” Guthrie said. — Ana Ceballos, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
7:04 p.m. Inmates evacuated from Florida prisons
Florida evacuated 4,000 prisoners from nearly three dozen facilities statewide ahead of approaching Hurricane Idalia, moving inmates to more robust buildings better equipped to survive what were expected to be dangerous conditions.The Department of Corrections said Tuesday some of the smaller prisons, work release centers and work camps were directly in the path of the storm, such as the Cross City Work Camp in Dixie County along Florida’s Big Bend coastland and the Tallahassee Community Release Center in the state’s capital. — Fresh Take Florida
6:37 p.m. Worried about a double hit of water in Pasco
Storm surge is the major concern in Pasco County. The county’s low-lying coastal region is bracing for a double hit of flooding — first from water pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico as Idalia passes, and then later Wednesday afternoon when rainwater dumped by the storm surges through Pasco’s watershed. That surge was top of mind for the dozens of New Port Richey residents still filling sandbags at 5:30 p.m. at the Magnolia Valley Golf Course.
Abbey Rivera said she had been putting off getting sandbags until warnings from the news finally got through to her. Rivera lives in a mandatory evacuation zone but opted to ride out the storm at home. ”I have too many animals to leave,” Rivera said. “A dog, a cat, rabbit, bird, turtles, my husband, my kids. We’re just going to stay put.”
Among those filling bags were Kyle Johnson and Brian Logan, two New Port Richey neighbors who decided to spend their evening helping others prepare. Johnson, a lifelong Floridian, said he’d spent roughly 35 hours over two days assisting at the site. ”You have single folks, older folks, people with kids,” he said. “In an emergency you just do what you can to help.” Pasco County officials estimate they have given out roughly 250,000 sandbags, but time may be running out. The county will restock sandbag sites until 7 p.m., after which supplies will be first-come-first-serve. — Ian Hodgson
Kyle Johnson, left, said he spent roughly 35 hours since Monday helping out at a New Port Richey sandbag location with his son, Trevor, center, and neighbor Brian Logan, right.
6:05 p.m. Riding out Idalia with the fishing captains in Tarpon Springs
At the edge of the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs, the handful of remaining customers at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill cleared bites of shrimp and fish from their plates and finished off pints of draft beer. Keaton Tunstall, who co-owns the bar and restaurant with his wife, began to prepare the space for the night ahead.
Tunstall will stay with his fisherman — about a dozen captains who supply Rusty Bellies with fresh seafood. ”We all huddle in this room and watch as the storm rolls in,” Tunstall said, signaling toward a row of windows that edge the water. “We keep an eye on the boats.” In this tight-knit community, Tunstall said locals rely on fishing captains — “maritime experts” — as their first line of information when storms draw near. People used to take hurricane warnings lightly, he said, but a shrimping boat captain died in Hurricane Irma, making people more cautious.
”Irma was an eye-opener. Ian was crazy,” Tunstall said. “Everyone is on high alert now, for good reason. ”Across from the restaurant is a patch of raised land scattered with strategically parked forklifts and trucks. “For after,” Tunstalls said. “It’s pretty funny. But our community is ready.” He hopes the restaurant will be open again Wednesday afternoon. — Lauren Peace
6:03 p.m. Scattered power outages in Tampa Bay
Scattered power outages appeared across the Tampa Bay area as the first rain bands from Hurricane Idalia reached the region. Duke Energy reported about 700 outages in Pinellas County by mid-afternoon, and Tampa Electric reported a total of about 1,300 outages. Almost all of those customers had power restored by the evening, the utilities reported. More outages are expected as Idalia gets closer. Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co. have assembled thousands of workers ready to restore power after the storm. Read more details here.
5:52 p.m. Tampa officials stress biggest threat is water
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor warned against complacency at news conference from the city’s Emergency Operations Center. ”The wind should pick up around 9 p.m.,” she said. “We expect the full force of the winds around midnight.” But the biggest threat the storm poses to Tampa is from the water, she added. The city is bracing for surge of 4 to 6 feet tomorrow said Castor, warning residents of low lying areas not to return home until they are told to do so. ”It is critically, critically important that you understand that,” she added.
Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw reminded residents not to drive through water-clogged streets. ”Turn around, don’t drown,” he said. He urged residents not to be lulled into a false sense of security if they wake up to blue skies. ”The storm may pass, the sun may be out,” he said. “But the tides are coming.”
5:46 p.m. Chased off by rain in Yankeetown
At the western tip of the Follow That Dream Parkway in Yankeetown, Joshua Lee Hankins Jr., 20, and Brooke McCarthy, 18, fished from a boat ramp as Idalia drew near. They weren’t worried about the hurricane. He lives in Dunnellon, she in Inglis. They travel to the dock often, past high grasses and wide marshes that Hankins Jr. loves. McCarthy enjoys the sunsets. They didn’t catch anything before rain rolled in and spoiled the evening. Nearby, a man stared over the water past a small island. He said he tries to make it every night, to close the day with a sunset. But the rain chased him away, too.
Riverside Drive, fringed by pines, was mostly empty late Tuesday along the Withlacoochee River. The Coast Guard Station was boarded up and blocked by sandbags. The marina was quiet. The Sunoco up the road in Inglis still had regular. A few trucks drove out toward U.S. 19, past the small Yankeetown sign, boasting of “Old Florida” on the Nature Coast. — Zack Sampson
5:43 p.m. Taking advantage of the weather
5:34 p.m. Shrugging off mandatory evacuation orders
Across the Tampa Bay region, some people in the most vulnerable places were bunkering down rather than leaving. They’d stocked up with water, batteries, Lays chips and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some fled for higher ground, though still within the zone at the greatest risk. They trusted that a second or third story would be enough.
Hurricane Ian, which missed Tampa Bay but devastated Fort Myers last year, was on the minds of many. Some noted Ian’s flooding hadn’t been that bad. Many who had been through several storms were used to the worst thing being the leaving itself. Some who chose to stay said they didn’t want to leave animals or get stuck on the roads.
The calculations being made across Tampa Bay on Tuesday at times involved an imprecise mix of weather forecasts, memories of past storms and gut instincts. But meteorologists and officials urged residents not to discount the predicted 4 to 7 feet of storm surge — which could be catastrophic. Read more about those hunkering down here. — Bethany Barnes and Lauren Peace
5:15 p.m. Idalia shifts farther west in latest forecast
The National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. update on Hurricane Idalia that the storm’s track had shifted 20 to 25 miles west since the hurricane center’s last update, noting that additional shifts to the track will be possible until the storm reaches land.
If the current track remains accurate, the center of the storm will be about 100 miles from the coast Tampa Bay. Much of Florida’s west coast, including Tampa Bay, remains under a hurricane warning, and forecasters said there is danger of a life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Gulf Coast, including Tampa Bay.
Forecasters are gaining confidence that Idalia will reach the coast of Florida adjacent to Apalachee Bay on Wednesday morning. The storm’s winds are expected to peak at roughly 125 mph, at the upper end of a Category 3 storm. Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicated that maximum sustained winds have now increased to near 100 mph, with higher gusts. Idalia is moving north at close to 16 mph. More details on the latest forecast here. — Michaela Mulligan and Jack Prator
5:13 p.m. Early prescription refills and counselors via Florida Blue
Florida Blue customers who experience feelings of stress, anxiety, trauma or grief during or after the storm can speak with a licensed counselor at no cost via a bilingual 24/7 help line at 1-833-848-1764. The insurance company has also lifted restrictions on early prescription refills in areas where a state of emergency has been declared. Customers can temporarily receive an early refill or a 30-day emergency supply of medication from in-network pharmacies.
4:43 p.m. Tampa mayor: ‘Don’t take anything for granted’
As Hurricane Idalia hurtled toward Florida, Tampa city officials felt cautiously optimistic their city wouldn’t face the worst of the storm’s wrath. But memories of Hurricane Ian are fresh. ”Don’t take anything for granted,” Mayor Jane Castor said en route to one of the city’s emergency response centers. “Mother Nature is ultimately in charge.”
At the emergency operations center, Castor surveyed maps of Idalia’s route and storm surge charts. The city has seven “push crews,” responsible for fanning out along vital roadways in the storm’s wake to clear paths for emergency vehicles. They’ll be assisted by the city’s drone team. ”The water is what we are most concerned about,” she said.
Summer flooding routinely swallows neighborhood streets in low-lying south Tampa. Mobility Department Director Vik Bhide said his team is paying particularly close attention to the correlation of heavy rain and high tide. He felt hopeful. High tide Wednesday, he said, is expected early afternoon, when rain is expected to have died down. ”Fingers crossed,” he added. — Olivia George
4:37 p.m. List of gas stations with contaminated fuel
Two more stations were added to the list of Florida gas stations affected by the Citgo fuel contamination, with 17 gas stations still under a “stop sale” order from the state. Some of the gas stations initially flagged by the state as having possibly received contaminated gas have now been cleared. More details on which stations are affected are here. — Justin Garcia and Max Chesnes
4:16 p.m. Publix stores closing at 5 p.m.
Tampa Bay Publix stores are closing in less than an hour. Many could reopen tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., according to the grocer’s online store tracker, but that depends on storm conditions and road closures. Shoppers can check their local store’s hours here. More details on Publix stores here. — Bernadette Berdychowski
4:14 p.m. Free-standing emergency rooms close, hospitals pause visits
Eight free-standing emergency rooms operated by HCA Florida, and two operate by Tampa General Hospital, will be closed during the storm since it would not be possible to tr
ansport patients who arrive needing immediate surgery, hospital officials said. Tampa General Hospital will suspend public visitation at 7 p.m. Visitors can return once local authorities deem it safe to travel. Elective surgeries and procedures will be canceled Wednesday and rescheduled. Four Tampa Bay hospitals were evacuated today in Tampa, South Pasadena, Tarpon Springs and Trinity. More details here. — Christopher O’Donnell
4:02 p.m. Pasco officials expect neighborhoods ‘underwater’
Hurricane Idalia may be tilting West, but Pasco County Emergency Management Director Andrew Fossa is still bracing for the worst. The coastal county is expecting six to nine feet of storm surge overnight with spurts of hurricane force winds reaching 180 mph lasting up to 20 minutes. Pasco currently has six shelters open, but so far fewer than 150 residents have shown up, including those with special needs.
”It’s horrible,” Fossa said. “People have become very complacent.” Fossa highlighted the extent of the problem in a Tuesday afternoon briefing to Pasco’s emergency response team. ”All these neighborhoods are underwater,” Fossa told the team, pointing to the dark blue streaks on a county map showing the extent of expected flooding along the Cotee and Anclote rivers.
Pasco rivers collect water from four surrounding counties. That means flooding from rain at the same time storm surge is pushing water in from the gulf. A boom in new construction further pushes water into older neighborhoods of New Port Richey and Holiday. To complicate matters, the county is expecting two storm surges — the first around 12:30 a.m. and the second around 1 p.m. Wednesday, expected to last until late afternoon. That leaves a narrow window for tomorrow’s rescue operations, during which rain and possible tornadoes may further hamper efforts.
The first priority will be to clear roads for EMT and fire rescue crews who will prioritize housebound residents with special needs, Fossa said, but once the second surge hits: “everything goes back to being a mess again.”
3:35 p.m. Photographs from around Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Times photographers have been documenting storm preparations around the region. Here are some scenes they found.
Douglas Clifford headed to Crystal River:
Ivy Ceballo headed to Tampa:
Martha Ascenscio-Rhine met families prepping in Pass-A-Grille:
3:15 p.m. Storm surge is here
Tampa Bay is already experiencing storm surge, according to hurricane experts. Water levels are rising in East Bay in Tampa, despite a falling tide.
This is a clear sign of creeping storm surge, said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
”With storm surge, it starts to sneak up a little bit, gradually at first,” he said. “The peak can be pretty sharp.”
— Jack Prator
3 p.m. Biden and DeSantis work together
For the second time in two years, Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden have been forced to work together as their agencies respond to a catastrophic storm.
How’s it going so far?
”There’s been no difficulty whatsoever,” said Federal Emergency Management Agency press secretary Jeremy Edwards, echoing DeSantis’ sentiment from Monday.
Communication has been fine between the feds and the state, Edwards said.
The press secretary noted that storms do not discriminate: They are just as likely to devastate blue counties as they are red ones. So it’s up to officials to remain similarly nonpartisan during times of crisis.
— Kirby Wilson
2:55 p.m. Tampa Bay braces for flooding
Kento Kawakami, a 30-year-old software engineer who works from home, piled sandbags and car ramps outside the front door to his Davis Islands apartment Tuesday as Hurricane Idalia spun closer to Tampa Bay.
”If it floods, it would be here,” said Kawakami, who has not seen significant inundation of his home since moving there in 2019.
He planned to evacuate to Dade City to stay with his girlfriend and her family. Kawakami put food, water and a few days worth of clothes in his car, but left electronics in his apartment, keeping them up higher than usual.
Kawakami said he over prepared for past storms. This time, he eased up a bit. He’s still nervous though.
”It’s Davis Islands, so anything can happen,” he said.
— Sam Ogozalek
Meanwhile in Shore Acres, some streets are already starting to flood. Times reporter Max Chesnes captured aerial video of watery St. Petersburg streets.
2:40 p.m. Tornado updates from the National Weather Service
The National Weather Service office in Miami issued a tornado warning for west central Collier County Tuesday afternoon. At 2:16 p.m., severe thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes were moving north near Alligator Alley, according to a severe weather statement.
Forecasters predict damage to mobile homes, roofs, vehicles and trees near Golden Gate Estates, Naples Park and the West Toll Gate on Alligator Alley and Vineyards.
Robert Garcia, a senior meteorologist with NWS Miami, said there have been no reports of tornadoes in southwest Florida yet.
”It’s still fairly early in the afternoon,” he said. “So, it’s possible we could hear some more as folks have a chance to get out.”
Garcia said tornadoes are still likely to form in southwest Florida through the afternoon and over night.
No tornado watches or warnings have been issued in the Tampa Bay area, according to Yiviana Vayas, a meteorologist with NWS Tampa Bay.
”We’re definitely keeping an eye on that,” she said.
— Jack Prator
2:35 p.m. Sparse early turnout at local shelters
Officials in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties encouraged all residents in coastal and low-lying areas to leave their homes as the storm intensified in the Gulf of Mexico and headed toward Florida’s west coast. They ordered mandatory evacuations and opened several shelters in schools, which canceled classes to host people fleeing the storm.
Early turnout at the sites, which had space for thousands, was sparse Tuesday morning.
About 250 people had filtered into shelters by early afternoon in Hillsborough County, where officials said they have room for 20,000 people. By that time, Pinellas shelters welcomed about 1,300 evacuees and Pasco about 100, along with a dozen pets.
The current census is a “rather low number,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, “but that’s good because I think people are taking advantage of other places to go versus the last resort and go to a shelter.”
Officials predicted the pace might pick up later Tuesday, as the first bands of rain and wind arrive. A year ago, some of the same locations welcomed hundreds of residents escaping Hurricane Ian.
If Idalia’s track shifts farther away from Tampa Bay, they said, the numbers might not increase too much.
In the meantime, they worked to ensure that the few who were showing up were treated well.
Read more on local shelters here.
— Divya Kumar and Jeffrey S. Solochek
2:32 p.m. College classes are canceled, but football continues
Hurricane Idalia has not yet caused any major changes to the first full weekend of college football.
The Gators were expected to leave early, but their Thursday night opener at No. 14 Utah remains as scheduled. USF hasn’t announced any notable scheduling adjustments for Saturday’s opener at Western Kentucky — the first game under new coach Alex Golesh.
Florida State announced that it doesn’t plan to alter any of its athletic events, despite the cancelation of classes through the week. The No. 8 Seminoles face No. 5 LSU in Orlando on Sunday in the biggest national game of the weekend.
UCF announced Tuesday that its home game against Kent State is still scheduled to kick off Thursday at 7 p.m. It’s the Knights’ first game as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
— Matt Baker
2:25 p.m. Locals head to Clearwater Beach before the storm
At Clearwater Beach, Times videographer Jennifer Glenfield met several Tampa Bay residents who spent their pre-hurricane hours soaking up the sun.
Alana Rimby, of Clearwater, brought her three children for a quick swim to get their energy out ahead of the storm. The family had already finished preparations, including bringing plants inside and stocking their hurricane kit.
2:15 p.m. Publix stores prepare to close early
Times photographer Luis Santana snapped this photo of a sign inside a Brandon Publix.
“Due to recent storm impacts, Publix will close at 5 p.m. today and open tomorrow at TBD,” the sign read. “Please visit www.publix.com/status for future storm-operating hours.”
2:07 p.m. Transit updates in Hillsborough
The Hillsborough Transit Authority (HART) plans to cease all bus, van and streetcar service Wednesday.
With potential overnight impacts to the Tampa Bay area from Hurricane Idalia, HART said its staff will spend Wednesday conducting damage assessment, moving buses back to the Operations Center from higher ground and checking routes for debris.
HART plans to restore some service Thursday if conditions permit.
Riders can monitor HART’s social media accounts or contact the HART at 813-254-4278 for service information.
— CT Bowen
2:05 p.m. At Hollywood Mobile Home Park, a flood zone A resident stays behind
Jeffery Reese, 59, has lived in Florida for over four decades. He spent the weekend stocking up on ice in case the power goes out at his home in Hollywood Mobile Home Park, a St. Petersburg manufactured community in flood zone A.
”They came here this morning telling everybody to get out,” said Reese, who is attempting to get on Social Security Disability after a fall on a job hanging Christmas lights put him out of work. “Man, I’m not getting out. The water might come into our streets, but my mobile home is raised.”
“And I’ve got nowhere to go,” he added. “I’m the only person in my family left here.”
The county’s shelters didn’t feel like an option, Reese said. He didn’t want to leave his boxer terrier mix, Angus, or cat, Lucy, behind. Most shelters take pets, but require owners to bring their own carriers.
”Let’s hope this little mobile home makes it through,” he said.
— Hannah Critchfield
1:55 p.m. Portable generator users: Be aware of carbon monoxide risks.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on Tuesday warned Floridians in Hurricane Idalia’s path about the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning when using a portable generator.
If your power goes out and you’re using a portable generator, the commission warned, never use it indoors and keep it 20 feet away from your house while pointing the exhaust away from the home.
Carbon monoxide is called the “silent killer” because its odorless and colorless. Poisoning from generators can cause a person to go unconscious without ever feeling symptoms first. In the wake of Hurricane Ian last year, at least 41 people had carbon monoxide poisoning.
— Max Chesnes
1:50 p.m. DeSantis eyes storm surge
Gov. Ron DeSantis, at a news conference at 1:45 in Columbia County, said that he expects the National Hurricane Center will increase their estimate for storm surge, especially in the Big Bend area where Idalia is forecasted to fall.
Like at other stops, the governor warned people about the deadly risk of storm surge, saying “you’re not gonna win that battle,” with high surge.
He also said some models of Idalia’s path suggest the storm will take a westward shift that could bring it into areas like Leon, Wakulla and Jefferson County.
Effects of Idalia were already being felt in south Florida by Tuesday afternoon, DeSantis said.
— Romy Ellenbogen
1:45 p.m. The scene from Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa
Early Tuesday afternoon, joggers and cyclists were still out and about along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.
Drew Einbender, of Atlanta, wanted to check out Hillsborough Bay, which was choppy as storm clouds loomed to the south. He biked toward the water.
Einbender, 27, was visiting his girlfriend in Hyde Park, and they were still weighing whether to evacuate or not. At the time, they planned to ride out the hurricane.
Their decision was still up in the air.
It’s a little scary, said Einbender, who was monitoring the forecast and what his neighbors decided to do.
— Sam Ogozalek
1:30 p.m. Evacuations continue in local healthcare facilities
As of 1pm on Tuesday, 83 healthcare facilities had evacuated or are in the midst of evacuating, according to a spokesperson for the Agency for Health Care Administration. That figure includes nine hospitals, 22 nursing homes and 41 assisted living facilities.
Bailey Smith, a spokesperson for the agency, said all health facilities are required to submit updates to the agency’s reporting system on information like their power outages, generator status, etc each day and whenever their situation changes.
— Romy Ellenbogen
1:20 p.m. Hillsborough County recommends residents reduce water use
As Hurricane Idalia approaches, Hillsborough County urged residents to minimize water use if their homes or neighborhoods lose power.
Water that goes down the drain collects in neighborhood pump stations. Without electricity to run them, the pump stations can and will overflow, presenting significant public health and environmental concern, the county said in a news release.
The county said its water resources department will send out crews out to help minimize the potential for overflows; but the best way to reduce impacts is to cut back on water use.
Tips to reduce water use include taking shorter showers, checking for faulty toilet flappers and stop valves; turning off the water while brushing teeth; avoid pre-rinsing dishes; run the dishwasher and washing machine only when they have full loads, and repair outdoor sprinklers.
— CT Bowen
1:10 p.m. Cedar Key residents pack up belongings ahead of Idalia
Carol Carlin’s shirt was soaked before 10 a.m., and Tuesday was a cooler, cloudier morning.
About two hours after Florida Highway Patrol officers knocked on her door and told her she had until 4 p.m. to leave Cedar Key, Carlin surveyed empty clothing racks in the shop her family has owned for about 13 years, Island Trading Post.
Friends and family loaded a box truck with black bulky trash bags full of their most valuable merchandise to haul to Orlando. The goal: Get down before happy hour, because she needs to decompress. They were up til 1 a.m. and back at it at 7 a.m.
Much of the bags hold clothing they would want to sell elsewhere in case they come back and their wooden, old-Florida waterfront shop is beyond saving or gone when they return. Few sounds could be heard besides the low hum of the occasional golf cart rolling by and the clanking of people carting things to their trucks. Cutting through clearly: The sound of the tide lapping at concrete pylons holding up the boutiques and restaurants.
”If you look at it from the outside, it’s not the best,” she said during a brief break from packing. “This whole town is very, very old, so a lot of the infrastructure that’s on Second Street … it’s been there for 100-plus years. I’m just really worried it might not be the same when we get back.”
Carlin, 28, said many are leaving the tiny Gulf Coast town with a population less than 700. But a friend has insisted on staying on the island.
”He said his house is rated for a Category 5 storm, but is it?” she said, with a furrowed, dripping brow. “It’s never been tested.”
— Joey Flechas, The Miami Herald
12:50 p.m. Idalia’s outer bands nearing Tampa Bay
Weather conditions in the Tampa Bay area are expected to deteriorate soon as Idalia’s outer bands spin toward the region.
Spectrum Bay News 9′s Klystron 9 radar showed an outer band with heavy thunderstorm activity sweeping north toward the mouth of Tampa Bay and southern Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Forecasters warn that isolated tornadoes associated with these rain bands could spin up as they move through the area.
— Tony Marrero
12: 47 p.m. Captains secure their boats in Tampa
Marque Amason, 56, isn’t worried about this one.
”No biggie if you know what you’re doing,” said the Tampa shrimp boat captain.
A year ago in the Fort Myers Beach area, Amason rode out Hurricane Ian on a boat called “Babygirl,” which ended up in a parking lot. He lost his truck and belongings in the storm.
Few shrimp boats were working after the hurricane, so he went north looking for a job. He found it at Tampa’s Versaggi Shrimp Corp. He’s now captain of “Raven,” which is docked near the 22nd Street Causeway Bridge.
Early Tuesday, as Hurricane Idalia spun up Florida’s Gulf Coast, Amason was preparing to tie down his boat with extra ropes. He’s going to stay onboard and watch TV during the storm. He likes the Grit channel, which shows westerns, and “Criminal Minds” on ION.
Justin Versaggi, owner of Versaggi Shrimp Corp., was on another one of his company’s boats early Tuesday, the “Fortuna.” The vessel, built in 1979, was secured with extra ropes, and Versaggi planned to drop its nets to the deck to limit wind resistance.
”I think we’re gonna be alright,” said Versaggi, 40. “Might dodge a bullet.”
Hurricane Idalia, he said, didn’t feel different than other storms. Every year, shrimpers go through the same routine. It’s a fisherman’s life, he said.
— Sam Ogozalek
12:44 p.m. Tampa Bay makes last-minute preparations
Minutes after the Midtown Tampa Whole Foods opened its doors Tuesday morning ahead of the storm, letting in crowd of anxious shoppers, Miguel Sanchez already had his car trunk and backseat filled with brown paper sacks.
“I’m full up,” said Sanchez, who was delivering groceries for Amazon and busy enough with pre-Idalia orders that he planned to work into the evening — getting him home before the worst of the weather.
But Tuesday morning, Sanchez was looking up at blue skies. “The calm before the storm,” he said.
Across Tampa Bay, residents spent Tuesday last-minute prepping and bracing for what Hurricane Idalia would bring.
The Ace Hardware in South Pasadena had a long line all morning. The store was out of gas cans, D batteries, flashlights — and sold the last lantern just before 10 a.m.
“People are worried. This is unusual, even for a hurricane,” said cashier Tina Hayes, 57. Some might be more concerned because of Hurricane Ian’s destruction last year, she said.
At a Dale Mabry Highway Home Depot, Jim Evangelista’s shopping cart looked like he was making the typical Saturday morning purchases: A green garden hose and giant bags of soil. But he planned for those bags to do double duty as sandbags for the storm, he said.
Was he worried? “I’m worried enough,” said Evangelista, who spent the day before prepping his house in Crystal River. “I’m worried about the storm surge and the water.”
At the Target next door, where employees were filling shelves with Halloween candy, Quintin Moultrie pushed a cart full of purchases for his delivery business.
“People are hunkering down, trying to get the last-minute hurricane supplies, batteries, dry goods, snacks for the kiddos,” he said. “I got a lot of calls yesterday — the volume was so high I couldn’t fulfill some orders.”
At the South Pasadena Ace Hardware, Victoria Sparks, 77, said she hadn’t grilled in decades. But Tuesday morning, she stopped by the store to buy a charcoal grill, “just in case.” Relatives keep texting her to leave, but she lined her home with sandbags and filled the back of her SUV with more to give to neighbors.
“We’re all in this together,” she said.
— Lane DeGregory and Sue Carlton
12:30 p.m. Sen. Scott urges Pasco residents to follow evacuation orders
Florida Sen. Rick Scott urged Pasco County residents to heed warnings to evacuate at-risk areas as soon as possible during a visit to county Emergency Management Office Tuesday afternoon.
Pasco officials issued a mandatory evacuation order Monday for residents in Evacuation Zone A and manufactured homes. Residents in Zones B and C are also urged to vacate, however those evacuations are not currently mandatory.
Once the storm hits and roads clog up, there’s little chance of making it to safe ground, Scott said.
“Remember, no one can help you in the middle of a storm.”
Pasco Emergency Management Director Andrew Fossa stressed that low-lying areas could see flooding Tuesday night, but peak storm surge of six to eight feet isn’t expected to hit until after the storm passes.
The county’s winding coastal waterways put homes far from the gulf at risk of life-threatening flooding, Fossa said. Those who live in mandatory evacuation zones along the Cotee River in New Port Richey and the Anclote River in Holiday need to evacuate now, he added.
Fossa asked that those who decide to remain contact a family member who can notify the county as soon as possible.
“Eventually we’re going to find them,” he said. “Hopefully alive and not dead, but we’re going to find them.”
Pasco County evacuation zones can be found here.
— Ian Hodgson
11:52 a.m. Idalia expected to land Wednesday as a strong Category 3
11 AM EDT 29 Aug #Idalia strengthens, with catastrophic storm surge expected in the Big Bend region. Residents in these areas should follow any advice or evacuation orders given by local officials. Make sure to stay informed with latest updates at https://t.co/tW4KeGe9uJ pic.twitter.com/MkORCjjpi6
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 29, 2023
Forecasters are gaining confidence that Idalia will likely reach the coast of Florida adjacent to Apalachee Bay on Wednesday morning, according to an 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.
The hurricane center anticipates Hurricane Idalia will be a strong Category 3 when it makes landfall, and will bring life-threatening storm surge along portions of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
”Catastrophic impacts from storm surge inundation of 10 to 15 feet above ground level and destructive waves are expected somewhere between Aucilla River and Yankeetown, Florida,” the forecast said.
— Michaela Mulligan
11:15 a.m. St. Petersburg Mayor: stay inside to avoid storm surge
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch stressed that the biggest impacts to low-lying areas may be after Hurricane Idalia passes and the sun is out.
“Please stay in your homes, stay alert and wait for the message from officials that it’s safe to leave,” he said at a news conference hosted by the St. Petersburg Police Department on Tuesday.
Welch said the storm could hit hardest around 2 p.m. Wednesday, when 4-7 feet of storm surge is expected. Heavy wind and rain is expected tonight.
Welch said another 58,000 sandbags were distributed Monday. There will be no more sandbag distribution.
The city’s Emergency Manager, Amber Boulding, said she’s not seeing a large evacuation and shelters have lots of capacity.
”Yes, we’re out of the cone. Yes, a lot of us are kind of breathing a little easier,” she said. “However, the risks are still there.”
Duke Energy government and community relations manager Jeff Baker said crews will not be able to get to work until sustained winds are below 35 miles per hour.
City Administrator Rob Gerdes said city crews may be able to begin damage assessments Wednesday after winds subside. The city plans to host another news conference later Tuesday afternoon.
— Colleen Wright
11:05 Free rides to hurricane shelters
Uber is offering free round-trip rides to evacuation shelters in Hernando, Hillsborough, Leon, Manatee, and Pinellas counties, the ride-sharing company announced Tuesday. The promo code “IDALIARELIEF” covers trips up to $35 each way. The offer includes only two trips per rider and must go to or from official state-approved shelters.
10:58 a.m. Pinellas County warns: don’t let your guard down yet
The main message from Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins on Tuesday: Yes, the probable path of the Hurricane Idalia has continued to shift west, away from Tampa Bay. No, that doesn’t mean our region is in the clear.
”The cone does not tell you the whole story for where the impacts of the storm are,” she said during a media briefing Tuesday morning. The outer bands extend much farther out.”
Pinellas is likely to experience sustained tropical storm-force winds, along with possible hurricane-force gusts, from Tuesday evening into Wednesday, she said, with the barrier islands at the highest risk for high winds. Once those winds reach tropical storm levels, she said, first responders won’t be able to respond to emergency calls.
Coastal and low-lying areas are still at risk of 4 to 7 feet of storm surge, not counting wave action on top, with the worst of the surge for Pinellas expected early Wednesday morning.
Perkins recalled that similar surges caused flooding in more than a thousand homes during Tropical Storm Eta. Idalia could cause widespread power outages similar to those that occurred during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Perkins emphasized that all these projections are still just that: projections.”This really varies depending on whether or not this storm wobbles as it gets close to us,” she said.
— Jack Evans
10:50 a.m. Crews secure construction site in downtown Tampa
Workers early Tuesday morning in downtown Tampa removed planks from the scaffolding alongside the Floridan Palace Hotel, which is undergoing renovations, in anticipation of Hurricane Idalia. @TB_Times pic.twitter.com/piKRdqQYxl
— Sam Ogozalek (@SamOgozalek) August 29, 2023
Read more about how builders are preparing for the storm here.
10:34 a.m. People start to arrive at Hillsborough emergency shelters
As of 10 a.m. 144 people and 11 pets had taken shelter at the 10 evacuation sites Hillsborough County and the school district opened Monday.
County Administrator Bonnie Wise said more arrivals are expected in the coming hours and the county has the ability to open additional shelters if warranted.
Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley said the county has the capability of sheltering 20,000 people.
The current census is a “rather low number,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister, “but that’s good because I think people are taking advantage of other places to go versus the last resort and go to a shelter.”
— C.T. Bowen
9:44 a.m. State prisons will close to visitors, but no evacuations yet.
The Florida Department of Corrections announced Tuesday morning that visitation for this Thursday and Friday would be canceled at multiple prisons along Idalia’s path.
Idalia is currently forecast to make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend region, where many of the state’s prisons sit. According to the department, they have begun preparing extra water and food for the facilities the storm could impact.
No evacuations have been publicly announced. Evacuations are only announced 24 hours after they are completed.
Kevin Guthrie, the director of the Division of Emergency Management, said on Monday that the Department of Corrections had begun enacting plans on Sunday. ”They will not leave any inmates in harm’s way, they will not leave any staff in harm’s way,” Guthrie said.
The facilities with canceled visitation are:
- Jefferson Correctional Institution
- Florida State Prison
- Hardee Correctional Institution
- Lowell Annex
- Madison Correctional Institution
- Marion Correctional Institution
- Tomoka Correctional Institution
- Sumter Correctional Institution
- Suwannee Correctional Institution
- Union Correctional Institution
— Romy Ellenbogen
9:40 a.m. Medical offices will close
Due to anticipated impacts of Hurricane Idalia, Bayfront Health physician offices and clinics will be closing at Noon today.
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital also announced it will close all of its Outpatient Care Centers, beginning Wednesday.
Non-emergent surgeries will be suspended from noon today and through all of Wednesday. Hospital staff will contact families to reschedule.
The emergency department at the hospital’s main campus in St. Petersburg will remain open for pediatric emergencies throughout the storm. All Children’s plans to resume normal operations at all locations Thursday, unless the storm creates unsafe conditions.
— Chris O’Donnell
9:38 a.m. DeSantis: be prepared for ‘nasty weather’ no matter where you live
On Tuesday morning, about 24 hours before hurricane Idalia is expected to make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend region, DeSantis said Floridians still have time to prepare for Idalia, but need to do it urgently.
”By the time we get to the end of tonight, you’re gonna see some nasty weather,” DeSantis said. “Be warned about that and do what you need to do right now to keep yourself and your family safe.”
He told Floridians to be prepared regardless of where they live, in or outside of the hurricane forecast cone.
Landfall is currently expected in Taylor County on Wednesday, but DeSantis said some models show Idalia moving even farther west, including it possibly hitting Tallahassee directly.
”We’ve not really had a hurricane strike this area for a long, long time,” DeSantis said. “I think you have to go back to the 1800s before you would see a path like this.”
He ran through numbers to emphasize the state’s preparation – 55,000 national guardsmen ready, 420,000 gallons of fuel, 25,000 linemen already stationed, etcetera.
Kevin Guthrie, the executive director of the Division of Emergency Management, told Floridians not to focus on the cone, but to focus instead on if their area is under hurricane watch or warning.
Guthrie also warned about possible tornados. If a tornado is coming, people should move to an interior room with no windows and protect their head, by putting a mattress on top or a bicycle helmet.
— Romy Ellenbogen
9:35 a.m. Hernando County urges residents to evacuate
As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, Hernando County ordered mandatory evacuations of zones A, B and C, plus mobile homes and other low-lying areas.
The county had previously encouraged residents in these zones to evacuate voluntarily. Refusal to follow a mandatory evacuation order is a second-degree misdemeanor under state law.
”If you have to evacuate, please do so,” said county emergency management director David DeCarlo at a 9 a.m. news conference. “If you choose to stay on Hernando Beach, Pine Island, Aripeka — there’s going to be a chance we’re not going to be able to get you at a certain point for rescue.”
He said the county has established a phone line for people with storm related questions at 352-754-4083. DeCarlo said about 300 people had called so far.
— Emily Mahoney
9:30 a.m. Florida State Guard could be deployed
Hurricane Idalia could be the first deployment for Florida’s newly created State Guard. Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Monday night that a “small detachment” is being activated to the state emergency distribution areas after the storm makes landfall.
Ron DeSantis pushed for the revival of the long-dormant State Guard to help augment the state’s overworked National Guard after disasters. But many military veterans who attended its first training, in June, quit over fears that it was becoming too much like a militia. The State Guard’s leader quit during the training, and his replacement has not been announced.
— Lawrence Mower
9:15 a.m. Devastated by Hermine, Cedar Key faces threat from Idalia
A tiny Florida island community devastated by a Hurricane Hermine seven years ago is now facing another big threat from Hurricane Idalia.
In 2016, Hurricane Hermine moved ashore near Cedar Key. It was a Category 1 storm but packed enough force to push a wall of storm surge onto the island in the state’s Big Bend region.
”The water in Cedar Key rose 9 feet before receding and left signs of destruction visible all over the island,” the Tampa Bay Times reported after the storm hit. “Businesses and homes were destroyed. Personal belongings littered the streets. Docks were mangled. Torn palm fronds were piled on the side of roads.”
When the Times returned the following month, the community’s resilience was on display as residents and businessowners worked to rebound from the storm.
Two years later, in 2018, Cedar Key breathed a collective sigh of relief when Hurricane Michael spared the town.
Now Hurricane Idalia is looming. Cedar Key as of Tuesday morning was in the storm’s forecast cone and within a stretch of coastline expected to see 8 to 12 feet of storm surge.
Another sign of the impending danger: The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore, a meteorologist known for heading to places where storms are expected to make a big impact, was broadcasting from there Tuesday, according to a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.
— Tony Marrero
8:30 a.m. Port Tampa Bay preps for high winds
The Coast Guard has set Port Tampa Bay to Port Condition ZULU, indicating the possibility of gale force winds entering the Bay in the next 12 hours.
The port has secured waterfront facilities and dock areas to remove debris and hazardous materials. The port’s waterways are closed, but landside operations remain open.
“We will work with our fuel terminal operators and partners to ensure gas and other fuels move out of our port and to consumers as long as possible,” according to a Tuesday morning press release.
— Olivia George
8:00 a.m. Wind speeds increase as the storm inches closer
Hurricane Idalia was about 320 miles south-southwest of Tampa Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm’s maximum winds were near 80 mph with higher gusts. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 15 miles and tropical storm force winds extended outwards up to 160 miles.
The National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office warned that people should finish any storm preparations Tuesday morning ahead of tropical storm force winds this afternoon.
— Michaela Mulligan
7:55 a.m. AdventHealth to evacuate Tarpon Springs hospital
AdventHealth it will evacuate its hospital in Tarpon Springs on Tuesday ahead of Hurricane Idalia.
The company will evacuate its AdventHealth North Pinellas facility, relocating more than 60 patients to other hospitals by noon, according to a news release. The hospital at 1395 S Pinellas Ave. is about 1 1/2 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
“Given our location and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, along with the projected storm surge of 5-7 feet and mandatory evacuation orders, we are evacuating our AdventHealth North Pinellas hospital in Tarpon Springs out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our patients, visitors and team members,” the release said.
The emergency room at the hospital will remain open until 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
The company has also cancelled all elective procedures this week.
— Tony Marrero
7:45 a.m. Storm surge could pose deadly threat
Idalia is shaping up to a major storm surge event up and down Florida’s west coast.
Wednesday is expected to be a king tide, which means storm surge from Idalia could reach about 1 or 2 feet higher than under normal tide conditions.
To see the potential impact Idalia’s surge could have, check out this interactive tool.
7:30: a.m. Key West radar shows Idalia’s eye
Idalia’s eye was showing up on Key West radar Tuesday morning, Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Mike Clay said in a post on X.
5:00 a.m. Hurricane Idalia forms, time running out to prepare
The National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update Tuesday that Idalia’s current track has the storm making landfall Wednesday in the Big Bend area.
“Confidence is increasing in an extremely dangerous major hurricane making landfall Wednesday along the west coast of Big Bend region of Florida,” the hurricane center update said.
Though the current track keeps the storm offshore of Tampa Bay, the region is expected to see dangerous storm surge, high winds and several inches of rain.
Forecasters anticipate the potential storm surge threat in Tampa Bay could be 4 to 7 feet, and 8 to 12 feet between Chassahowtizka and the Aucilla river.
Idalia could bring the potential for Category 1 or 2 winds across areas of Tampa Bay, said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office. A Category 2 storm can reach up 110 mph and bring extremely dangerous winds.
Tampa Bay could see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts. Delerme said tropical storm force winds will begin in the area Tuesday afternoon and hurricane force winds could begin overnight into Wednesday.
Delerme said those in Tampa Bay should be finishing their storm preparations by Tuesday morning.
Read more here
— Michaela Mulligan
• • •
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