'Unprecedented' Idalia Barrels Into Florida

Hurricane made landfall as Category 3 storm along western Big Bend region
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 30, 2023 6:49 AM CDT
Updated Aug 30, 2023 7:20 AM CDT
Florida Braces for the 'Unprecedented' as Idalia Nears
This Tuesday satellite image shows Hurricane Idalia, center, approaching Florida's Gulf Coast, and Hurricane Franklin, right, as it moves along the East coast of the United States, southwest of Bermuda.   (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via AP)

Hurricane Idalia briefly strengthened to a dangerous Category 4 storm, then fell back to Category 3 status on Wednesday morning as it made landfall in Florida's Big Bend region, where it threatened to unleash massive rainfall and life-threatening storm surges as high as 15 feet. As it made landfall at 7:45am ET on Wednesday, Idalia had maximum sustained winds of 125mph, with gusts that went even higher—likely setting it up as the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Big Bend region, per the Weather Channel. The lightly populated Big Bend region is where the Florida Panhandle curves into the peninsula. The result could be a big blow to a state still dealing with lingering damage from last year's Hurricane Ian, per the AP. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia "an unprecedented event," as no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend.

Hurricanes are measured on a five-category scale, with a Category 5 being the strongest. A Category 3 storm is the first on the scale considered a major hurricane. The National Hurricane Center says "catastrophic damage will occur" during a Category 4 storm. Tolls were waived on highways out of the danger area, shelters were open, and hotels prepared to take in evacuees. More than 30,000 utility workers were gathering to make repairs as quickly as possible in the hurricane's wake. About 5,500 National Guard troops were also activated.

After landing in the Big Bend region, Idalia is forecast to cross the Florida Peninsula and then drench southern Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday. Both Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced states of emergency, freeing up state resources and personnel, including hundreds of National Guard troops. "We'll be prepared to the best of our abilities," said Russell Guess, who was topping off the gas tank on his truck in Valdosta, Georgia. His co-workers at Cunningham Tree Service were doing the same. "There will be trees on people's house, trees across power lines."

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Not everyone was heeding the warnings to evacuate affected areas. Andy Bair, owner of the Island Hotel in Cedar Key, Florida, said he intended to "babysit" his bed-and-breakfast, which predates the Civil War. The building hasn't flooded in the almost 20 years he has owned it, not even when Hurricane Hermine flooded the city in 2016. "Being a caretaker of the oldest building in Cedar Key, I just feel kind of like I need to be here," Bair said. "We've proven time and again that we're not going to wash away. We may be a little uncomfortable for a couple of days, but we'll be OK eventually."

(More Hurricane Idalia stories.)

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