Storm Expected to be Category Four at Landfall

TAMPA, FL – For the third time in the last six years, a powerful “I” named storm is bearing down on the Sunshine State.  Florida braces for Idalia, a low end Category Three Hurricane with 120 mile per hour winds.  The storm is forecast to intensify further to a Category Four Hurricane with 130 mph winds.  Portions of the Florida Gulf Coast is expected to see a storm surge between 12 and 16 feet.

A mere tropical disturbance late last week, Idalia rapidly intensified from a tropical storm over the weekend to the second major hurricane of the season.  Pressure has dropped to 945 millibars or 27.91 inches of Hg (Mercury).  Winds have increased some 50 miles per hour in just the last 26 hours.  The rise in wind speed is directly related to a pressure fall of 42 millibars over the past 38 hours.   Over the past two hours alone, the pressure has fallen 13 millibars.

Another indication of Idalia’s strengthening has been the emergence of a pinhole size eye.  The small eye diameter in Idalia is an example of the increased rotation and the conservation of angular momentum.  The tightly wound eye is like a figure skater pulling in his or her arms as they spin.  Idalia’s eye is about 11 miles across, and is located less than 100 miles to the west of Tampa.

The track and intensity forecast from the National Hurricane Center has been pretty much spot on to this point.  Rapid intensification and a Florida Gulf Coast landfall was indicated earlier this week.  The track has deviated a bit more to the north than it was over the weekend.  With sea surface temperatures between 85 and 90 degrees in the Gulf of Mexico, all was needed were light winds aloft.

Once Idalia moved into the area of light wind shear, explosive development was inevitable.  This storm will be the first landfalling major hurricane in the United States in 2023.  In addition, it will be the second major storm to strike somewhere along the Gulf Coast of Florida in 11 months.  Back in late September 2022, Hurricane Ian devastated the city of Fort Myers in Southwest Florida.

Idalia is headed further north, but could bring some squally weather with feeder bands to Naples and Fort Myers.  The brunt of this storm will be felt in the Big Bend area of Florida’s West Coast from Englewood northward to Indian Point.  A Hurricane Warning and Storm Surge Warning is in effect for this area.  Idalia is expected to make landfall in this area around 8:00 AM EDT on Wednesday.

A little more than 5 million people are in the area of the forecast cone.  However, a larger amount of residents are susceptible to the effects of Idalia even though they are not in the cone.  One thing to note about the area that Idalia is about to impact.  According to Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a weather expert for Forbes, the Big Bend region of Florida has a very large population of residents without disaster insurance.

Idalia is the 9th named storm to form in the Atlantic in 2023.  It is the fifth named storm to emerge in the basin in just the past 10 days or so.  Another storm currently in the Atlantic, Franklin is also a major hurricane.  Franklin is the strongest storm to date in the Atlantic.  On Monday, Franklin strengthened to near Category Five strength with 150 mile per hour winds, but has since weakened to a minimal Category Three storm.

The Atlantic has become the place to be for tropical storms and hurricanes over the last 10 days.  Prior to that, much of the focus had been on the Eastern Pacific with storms such as Dora, Fernanda, and Hilary.  Dora grew to a Category Four storm, and contributed to the wildfires in Maui along with strong high pressure to the north.  Hilary became the first tropical cyclone to make landfall in California since 1939.

The Eastern Pacific didn’t even have a named storm for the first month of its season.  However, the emergence of what is expected to be a fairly strong El Niño has created very conducive conditions for development there.  Conversely, the Atlantic started out fast with three named storms in June, but went into the doldrums for much of July.  Above average ocean temperatures in the Atlantic have negated some of the effects of the El Niño in recent weeks.

Idalia is expected to continue moving to the northeast once it makes landfall in the Big Bend area of Florida.  Locations in Northeastern Florida such as Jacksonville, Florida as well as Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina could see tropical storm conditions.   Gusty winds, heavy rains, and possible tornadoes are possible.  Afterwards, the storm may head east and then southeast as the subtropical ridge tries to push the storm back to the west later in the week.