Tropical Storm Italia is expected to strengthen into a hurricane on Monday, and could become a powerful Category 3 storm along Florida’s Gulf Coast later this week, bringing damaging winds, heavy rain and flooding, prompting evacuations and school closures in parts of the state.
By Monday night, Italia was “almost a hurricane” as it neared the United States, and a potentially life-threatening storm surge was growing in parts of Florida’s National Hurricane Center. said.
The storm had sustained winds of 70 mph and was about 20 miles southwest of the western tip of Cuba on Monday night, the center said. State television broadcasters said Monday night that more than 8,000 people had been evacuated from coastal areas of western Cuba ahead of the storm.
Italia is forecast to strengthen rapidly and become a “major hurricane” late Tuesday before making landfall in Florida, the center warned.
Italy will make landfall Wednesday in Florida’s Big Bend — a natural, storm surge-prone area along the coast that stretches from Tampa to just south of Tallahassee. Storm surges of up to 12 feet are predicted there.
At least 10 counties issued mandatory and voluntary evacuations, including Hillsborough County, home to Tampa, which issued mandatory evacuations for some coastal areas. And more than 5,000 National Guardsmen were activated to help respond to the storm.
“It’s going to have a big impact,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Monday.
In Jacksonville, Mayor Donna Deegan declared a local state of emergency, saying several shelters were being opened to accommodate people who needed to evacuate.
Follow Live Notifications: Italia is evacuating people on its way to Florida.
- Rapid exacerbation is expected: Tracking exceptionally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Idalia is forecast to rapidly intensify from a Category 1 hurricane Monday night to a powerful Category 3 hurricane 24 hours later.
- A small change in trajectory could dramatically affect Tampa: If Italia makes landfall farther south than currently forecast, Tampa could be hit with strong winds and large storm surge.
- Impacts well outside the cone: Storm surge, wind and rain will affect much of Florida’s Gulf Coast. After the storm makes landfall, damaging winds and heavy rain will spread inland to Florida, parts of Georgia and the Carolinas.
Italia’s impacts will be felt from the Florida Keys to the state’s west coast as soon as Tuesday. Wind speeds will increase across the Florida Keys and the state’s southwest coast beginning Tuesday morning. The outer bands of Italia could wrap inland across much of Florida, including inland areas, by Tuesday night.
A large swath of Florida is expected to experience impacts from Italia, but the worst of what the storm has to offer stretches north from Tampa to the Big Bend region and the Panhandle.
Conditions in these areas will deteriorate rapidly Tuesday night into Wednesday morning as landfall approaches.
A life-threatening storm surge of up to 12 feet is possible in Florida’s Big Bend, only to be worsened by waves driven by hurricane-force winds of 100 mph.
Storm surge, which is when a storm surges out to sea, is one of the most dangerous aspects of a hurricane and the reason behind most storm drains.
During Hurricane Ian, storm surges of 10 to 15 feet swept buildings off their foundations off the coast of Fort Myers, Florida. Off Italia, a surge of 8 to 12 feet was predicted, which Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center, called “our biggest concern.”
“If you’re asked to evacuate, these are the areas you don’t want to be in,” Brennan said.
A storm surge warning – meaning there is a life-threatening risk of rising water – is in effect from Englewood, Florida, north to Indian Pass, including Tampa Bay.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuations were issued in several Florida counties Monday morning, which DeSantis warned could expand.
“Evacuation orders are being issued for all Gulf Coast counties in Zones A and B (and) all low-lying barrier islands,” DeSantis said.
Pasco, Manatee, Hernando, Taylor, Pinellas and Hillsborough were ordered to evacuate Monday. Sarasota and Citrus counties for low-lying coastal areas and vulnerable structures.
Evacuation orders in Hillsborough County include parts of the Tampa area.
“If the governor issues an evacuation order, it means your life is in danger,” warned Tampa Police Chief Lee Bergaw.
Tampa International Airport has announced it will suspend all commercial operations as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The airport announced that it was targeting to reopen Thursday morning after assessing the damage left by the storm.
DeSantis expanded the emergency declaration to 46 of 67 Florida counties Monday morning.
Power companies will also begin deploying workers on Monday, the governor said.
“If you’re in the path of the storm, you should expect power outages, so please prepare for that,” the governor told residents.
University of Florida declared Its campus will be closed and classes will be canceled beginning Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday.
Schools across the region also canceled classes due to the severe weather. Hillsborough County Public Schools has announced that all classes and activities will remain open Cancelled Tuesday and Wednesday.
Georgia was also preparing for Italy’s visit. Gov. Brian Kemp activated the state operations center on Monday.
“Georgia will be ready for whatever Italia brings,” Kemp said. “Rest assured, although the system will weaken before crossing our border, we are not taking anything for granted.”