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### Tropical Storm Idalia Expected to Intensify into Major Hurricane

Tropical Storm Idalia is projected to become a “dangerous major hurricane” as it progresses towards Florida’s Gulf Coast early Wednesday, according to forecasters. The storm is anticipated to gradually strengthen on Monday as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico, with meteorologists predicting rapid intensification on Tuesday. This would transform Idalia into a powerful category three hurricane, boasting winds exceeding 115 miles per hour. The storm is expected to gain strength even after passing over western Cuba and entering the Gulf. Consequently, life-threatening storm surge and hazardous winds are likely to affect Florida’s west coast and Panhandle region, potentially as early as late Tuesday.

The precise landfall location remains challenging to predict due to Idalia’s expected parallel trajectory along the west coast of Florida. The National Hurricane Center has cautioned that the combination of a dangerous storm surge and high tide could result in inland flooding in normally dry coastal areas. Storm surge watches have been issued for parts of Florida, while a hurricane watch extends from Englewood to Indian Pass, encompassing Tampa Bay. Cuba is also under hurricane watches. Additionally, a tropical storm watch has been declared for the Gulf Coast south of Englewood to Chokoloskee, along with a storm surge watch from Chokoloskee to Indian Pass. Jamie Rhome, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, warns that wind speeds could peak at 100 miles per hour.

In light of the potential risks, Mr. Rhome emphasized the possibility of necessary evacuations and urged residents to not solely rely on forecast cones in assessing their risk. Furthermore, Idalia poses a threat of heavy rain to Georgia and the Carolinas. The Florida Division of Emergency Management has advised residents to maintain at least a half-full gas tank in case evacuation orders are issued. Governor Ron DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency in 33 counties as a precautionary measure. The state has mobilized 1,100 members of the National Guard, equipped with 2,400 high-water vehicles and 12 aircraft for rescue operations. Electric companies are also prepared for potential power outages, with employees on standby from Monday onwards.

The National Hurricane Center’s advisory highlights the potential for Idalia to generate four to seven inches of rainfall in western Cuba and four to eight inches along portions of Florida’s west coast, the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia, and the eastern Carolinas. Flash floods, urban flooding, and landslides are possible consequences of this precipitation. Cuba has issued a hurricane warning for Pinar Del Rio and upgraded a tropical storm watch for the Isle of Youth to a tropical storm warning. Meanwhile, a tropical storm warning has been released for the Dry Tortugas islands, and a watch is in effect for Lower Florida Keys West.

Florida’s west coast has experienced several hurricanes in recent years, including Hurricane Ian in 2022 and Hurricane Michael in 2018, both of which caused significant damage due to strong winds and storm surges. While Michael hit the Panhandle, Ian struck the southwestern edge of the state. Notable storms like Eta in 2020 and Elsa in 2021 reached hurricane strength in the Gulf but underwent weakening before making landfall along the Big Bend coast. The Atlantic hurricane season officially began on June 1 and concludes on November 30. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year’s prediction included 12 to 17 named storms, which was later revised upward to 14 to 21 storms on August 10.

Scientists concur that climate change is amplifying the power of hurricanes. Although the total number of named storms might not be increasing significantly, the likelihood of major hurricanes is on the rise. Climate change is also impacting the amount of rainfall these storms can produce. With warmer temperatures, the air can hold more moisture, resulting in an increased capacity for rainfall. The devastating example of Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017, which brought over 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours, serves as a stark reminder of this effect.

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