The Category 3 storm made landfall on the coast of Florida's Big Bend near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday. With its 125 mph winds and significant flooding, it posed an immediate threat to lives and properties. The cyclone has since weakened to a tropical storm with winds of 60 mph as it lashes communities north of Charleston, S.C.
While Governor Ron DeSantis told media Wednesday afternoon during a news conference that there were no confirmed fatalities, the Florida Highway Patrol said two men died in separate rain-related crashes in Gainesville and Pasco County due to Idalia. One man’s pickup truck swerved and crashed into a tree, while the other man lost control and hit a tree with his truck.
The FOX Forecast Center said Idalia was the strongest hurricane to strike the Big Bend area – especially near Cedar Key – in 125 years, dating back to an unnamed 1896 storm.
The governor said he believes Hurricane Ian was more deadly because of the path of the storm, and people evacuated when Idalia's storm surge was forecast to be between 10 and 15 feet.
"I can tell you with Hurricane Ian, as soon as that storm hit, within an hour after hitting, there were frantic phone calls to 911 locally there of people that were literally drowning in their house," DeSantis recalled of Lee County, Florida, where Ian made landfall.
"I think part of it is that when you see storm surge of that nature like we saw during Ian, I think a lot of people really heeded the warnings that their local officials issued because, you know, you can't hide from the storm surge in your house," DeSantis said.
Tropical Storm Idalia charges east through Georgia, Carolinas
After lashing Florida’s Gulf Coast with threatening storm surge and extreme winds, Idalia rushed inland, triggering rare Extreme Wind Warnings for four counties north of the Big Bend, including a swath of Interstate 10.
Idalia roared into southern Georgia still threatening hurricane-force gusts. Valdosta hit a gust of 67 mph and was under a rare Flash Flooding Emergency, the FOX Forecast Center reports.
Florida's streets flood as storm surge rises
Before the monstrous storm's arrival, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) cautioned that Idalia's storm surge could reach heights of 16 feet in some locations near the storm center, setting modern records.
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Just after sunrise, Cedar Key, Florida, reported 6.07 feet of storm surge during astronomical low tide, and forecasters expect a higher value as Idalia churns more inland. This is the second-highest level ever observed behind Hurricane Hermine of 6.10 feet.
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said more than 700 crew members are using heavy equipment to reopen roads and inspect bridges in Big Bend and North Florida, as well as restoring traffic lights.
"One thing that we noticed as we were surveying the area traffic signals are definitely out of power here in this area," Perdue said. "We have generators in route. We're going to be getting generators set up to get those signals powered up as quickly as possible."
On Wednesday morning, floodwater submerged a mobile home park in St. Petersburg. The National Guard dispatched over 100 soldiers and high-water vehicles to assist in affected counties.
According to St. Petersburg city officials, fire rescue crews rescued more than 75 people from flooding on Wednesday.
Treasure Island was also covered in floodwaters as Idalia's storm surge pushed inland, and officials were still worried about waters rising during high tide around midday, with significant flooding forecast to continue throughout the day.
Idalia causes power outages for over 650,000
During the height of the storm over 650,000 power outages were reported with the majority of reports coming from Wakulla, Taylor, Dixie and Levy counties near landfall – areas where some residents decided to remain in their homes despite evacuation orders in at least 30 counties placed in a state of emergency.
More than 210,000 outages have been reported in Georgia as Idalia slams the state.
Days leading up to Idalia's arrival, resources were prepositioned as President Joe Biden approved Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration.
Inside Idalia's eyewall
During Idalia's landfall, an impressive convective burst and abundant lightning were seen within its eye wall.
Brian Emfinger, a storm chaser with Live Storms Media, experienced Idalia's landfall in Keaton Beach. He reported that the front of the eye wall contained strong winds. Although a wind gauge recorded a gust of 83 mph before toppling, Emfinger estimated gusts over 100 mph.
After the eye passed, the winds returned with even more ferocity, blowing onshore and bringing a wall of water with it. Emfinger noted that the storm surge arrived quickly with the back eyewall, rising several feet in just a few minutes.
Charleston, North Carolina not spared
Tide levels rose to 9.23 feet in Charleston Harbor, which was the observation site’s fifth-highest peak in history, according to the National Weather Service.
The level was short of storm surges created during hurricanes Mathew, Irma and Hugo but led to flooded streets and dune erosion along beaches.
The FOX Forecast Center said that the combination of Idalia, swells from Franklin and the influences from the stage of the moon are creating the perfect event for flooding around Charleston and other low-lying communities in the Carolinas.
There were no reported injuries on Wednesday evening, but several cars appeared to be stuck in the high water.