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Tropical Storm Idalia, Hurricane Franklin gain strength, pose dual threat

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As the Atlantic hurricane season ramps up, two formidable storms are gathering momentum. Tropical Storm Idalia, currently located off Cuba’s coast, is projected to evolve into a major hurricane poised to strike the southern United States, warned the National Hurricane Center.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida advised Gulf coast residents to brace for significant impacts, predicting Hurricane Idalia’s imminent impact on the state.

President Joe Biden conferred with Governor DeSantis, granting an emergency declaration for Florida. As of 11 a.m. EDT, Idalia is situated approximately 80 miles south of Cuba’s western tip, boasting sustained winds of 65 mph while heading north at 8 mph. The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning encompassing areas from Longboat Key to the Ochlockonee River, including Tampa Bay.

Idalia is forecasted to intensify into a hurricane by Monday, becoming a “dangerous major hurricane over northeastern Gulf of Mexico by early Wednesday.” The potential for life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds looms large for parts of Florida, and experts predict Idalia could reach Florida’s Gulf coast by Wednesday.

Simultaneously, Hurricane Franklin has surged in strength overnight, transitioning into the first major hurricane of the Atlantic season. Sustaining 130 mph winds as of 8 a.m. EDT, it achieved Category 4 status, signifying its formidable power. While Franklin is not accompanied by coastal warnings or watches, it is expected to generate life-threatening surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast, affecting Bermuda as well.

In Florida, concerns are growing as the state eyes Hurricane Idalia warily. Predictions suggest that up to 11 feet of ocean water could inundate Florida’s west coast, raising the specter of destructive flooding. Governor DeSantis acknowledges the inherent uncertainty in the forecast, noting the influence of warm Gulf waters on the storm’s potential acceleration.

The threat of storm surges is particularly pronounced, with some areas potentially facing surges higher than a one-story building. Locations like Tampa Bay, at risk of a 4-7 foot storm surge, are urged to exercise caution. Vulnerable to storm surges, the western coast of Florida from Fort Myers northward is cautioned to remain vigilant.

Cedar Key, a Gulf of Mexico fishing village, faces grave concerns over storm surges. With projections of two to five feet of ocean water, the potential for downtown inundation is significant. In Bradenton Beach, preparations are underway, including the consideration of dismantling a tent that could be susceptible to storm damage.

Mexican officials are issuing warnings for intense rains and strong winds in the Yucatan Peninsula, urging citizens to remain alert in anticipation of potential flooding. Florida, for its part, is marshaling resources, with 1,100 National Guard members and numerous vehicles and aircraft ready for rescue efforts.

Thirty-three counties in Florida have declared a state of emergency, highlighting the gravity of the situation. Although the U.S. East Coast has been spared cyclones this year, the Western regions have been hit hard by Tropical Storm Hilary. This year’s heightened hurricane activity is attributed to exceptionally warm ocean temperatures, causing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to revise its initial forecast for the 2023 hurricane season. This season, which stretches through November 30, is expected to peak in August and September.

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