Hurricane Idalia made landfall in northwestern Florida on Wednesday morning – bringing heavy winds, torrential rains and sending thousands of people fleeing for safety – and has since cut a path of destruction across southern Georgia en route to the Carolinas.
It was downgraded to tropical storm status by the National Hurricane Center after arriving in Keaton Beach in Florida’s Big Bend and has since lost seen its wind speeds drop from 125mph to 60mph but has still caused plenty of chaos.
While the storm is expected to drift out into the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend, the Global Forecasting System, a US federal hurricane projection model, has caused alarm by indicating that it could then circle back and strike the Sunshine State for a second time early next week.
According to The Daily Beast, other models, including that of the trusted European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, do not support that conclusion and such looping is considered highly unusual for tropical storms but is not unprecedented.
Hurricane Ivan, for instance, came back around to strike Florida for a second time in 2004, ultimately taking 25 lives and causing $20.5bn-worth of damage.
Before Idalia completed its crossing of the Gulf of Mexico and arrived in the southeastern United States, it had already hit western Cuba with torrential rainfall and flooding, bringing further devastation to the tobacco-producing province of Pinar del Rio on Monday and Tuesday, which was hammered by Hurricane Ian last September.
Its impact led Floridians to prepare for the worst, with many loading up on sandbags and others living in low-lying areas along the Gulf Coast packing up their cars, readying generators and evacuating their homes to be out of harm’s way.
Idalia marked the first major storm to strike Florida this hurricane season, which tends to peak in August and September before coming to a close in late November.
Like Cuba, Florida is still dealing with the damage left behind by Hurricane Ian 11 months ago, which left 150 people dead and damaged 52,000 structures.
— Pettus Weather (@PettusWX) August 28, 2023
Florida governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis had declared a state of emergency in 46 counties, a broad swathe that stretches across the northern half of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic. In the event, Mr DeSantis’s own mansion was struck by a fallen tree.
State officials, 5,500 National Guardsman and rescue crews went into search-and-recovery mode once Idalia had crossed state lines into Georgia, inspecting bridges, clearing toppled trees and looking for anyone in distress. More than 30,000 utility workers gathered to repair the downed power lines and poles.
Tropical Storm Idalia is just the latest in a summer of natural disasters to hit North America, from deadly wildfires in Hawaii and Canada to the first tropical storm to hit California in 84 years – marking the latest illustrations of the climate crisis in action.