By Jack Phillips
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for his state ahead of possible impacts from Hurricane Idalia, which is forecast to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast Wednesday.
Mr. Cooper issued the emergency declaration on Monday to activate his state’s emergency operations, among other measures, according to his office. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an emergency for dozens of counties in his state earlier this week, ahead of the storm’s landfall.
“We are continuing to monitor Idalia’s course and its potential impacts on our state and it’s critical to make sure we are fully prepared,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement. “It is important for North Carolinians to gather emergency kits and prepare for the storm before it’s too late. We also want to make sure our farmers are able to protect their crops.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Idalia strengthened to become a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds, although forecasters with the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) say it is likely to intensify into a “major” hurricane of Category 3 or higher. The storm is expected to make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend region somewhere east of Tallahassee, Florida, after 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
Hurricane warnings are already in effect for much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, which means that hurricane conditions are expected within the next 48 hours. Storm surge warnings, which are meant to raise awareness about the significant amount of ocean flooding the storm is forecast to bring, were also in effect.
Some areas, including the Aucilla River and Yankeetown areas in Florida, are expected to get up to 15 feet of storm surge, according to the NHC.
“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves,” said the agency. “Surge-related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances.”
Officials have added that “life-threatening storm surge inundation is likely elsewhere along portions of the Florida Gulf Coast where a storm surge warning is in effect. Residents in these areas should follow any advice or evacuation orders given by local officials.”
Meanwhile, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Idalia head northward toward the Carolinas by Thursday. North Carolina officials warned in a news release that the state could see “several hazards” that include flooding on those two days.
“We are working together with our local jurisdictions to ensure we have necessary resources staged to support emergency response needs,” North Carolina Emergency Management Director Will Ray said in a statement. “We are grateful for the partnership to protect our communities, the 10.6 million North Carolinians, and visitors.”
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee called Idalia “an unprecedented event” since no major hurricanes on record have ever passed through the bay abutting the Big Bend region.
“You do not have to leave the state. You don’t have to drive hundreds of miles. You have to get to higher ground in a safe structure. You can ride the storm out there, then go back to your home,” Mr. DeSantis said Tuesday morning at the state’s emergency operations center.
Many school districts along the Gulf Coast were to be closed through at least Wednesday. Several colleges and universities also closed, including the University of Florida in Gainesville.
On the island of Cedar Key, Commissioner Sue Colson joined other city officials in packing up documents and electronics at City Hall. She had a message for the almost 900 residents who were under mandatory orders to evacuate the island near the coast of the Big Bend region. More than a dozen state troopers went door to door warning residents that storm surge could rise as high as 15 feet.
“One word—leave,” Ms. Colson said. “It’s not something to discuss.”
Already, Hurricane Idalia thrashed Cuba with heavy rain, especially in the westernmost part of the island, where the tobacco-producing province of Pinar del Rio is still recovering from Hurricane Ian. More than 10,000 people evacuated to shelters or stayed with friends and relatives as up to 4 inches of rain fell. More than half of the province was without electricity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.