Hurricane Idalia roared toward Florida’s Gulf Coast on Tuesday, threatening storm surges and devastating winds that spurred evacuation orders ahead of its expected landfall as a major Category 3 ‘cane.
The rapidly intensifying storm is projected to have sustained winds of up to 120 mph as it approaches the state.
“Idalia probably has another 24 to 30 hours left over water, and it will continue to move north toward the Big Bend of Florida,” where the state’s panhandle shifts into its peninsula region, Fox Meteorologist Cody Braud told The Post.
The wicked storm — expected to make landfall between 6 a.m. and noon Wednesday — has left about 14 million Floridians under hurricane and tropical storm warnings.
As Floridians braced for the weather wallop — loading up on sandbags and evacuating homes along the Gulf Coast — Idalia dumped heavy rain over Cuba, particularly in the westernmost portion of the island.
Cubans rushed to evacuate coastal towns in that region Monday as brown floodwaters as tall as people’s knees inundated homes and rain pummeled the tobacco-rich province of Pinar del Rio.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from Pinar del Rio as well as the neighboring farm province of Artemisa.
After passing over the western tip of Cuba on Tuesday morning, Idalia barreled north, reaching maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters predict Idalia’s winds will quickly gain speed and reach up to 120 mph, which will designate it as a dangerous major hurricane.
“As we track for the next 24 hours, we’re definitely expecting the storm to make a very quick ramp-up to a major hurricane right as it’s making its approach to land,” Braud said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 46 counties in the state as thousands of National Guard troops were deployed to the area ahead of the storm’s impact.
“Buckle up for this one,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday afternoon.
“Do what you got to do. You still have time today. You have time for most of tomorrow,” he said, urging Floridians to prepare for the perilous conditions, which could come as early as Tuesday night.
Large swaths along Florida’s western coast are at risk for storm surges and floods. There have been evacuation notices issued for residents in 21 counties, with mandatory orders in place for some people in eight of those counties who live in low-lying and coastal areas.
Residents along the coast and in the Big Bend region could see anywhere from 8 to 12 feet of water surging onshore, raising concerns for catastrophic flooding. Meanwhile, residents located more inland may experience freshwater flooding from the rain.
As Idalia exits Florida later this week, it will be moving through Georgia and the Carolinas, which can expect to see “pretty major disruptions,” particularly in the coastal regions, Braud said.
Both Southwest Florida and Cuba are still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which was responsible for more than 100 deaths last year and left some Florida residents without power for over a month.
Tampa International Airport and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport said they would close on Tuesday, and the Sunrail commuter rail service in Orlando was being suspended.
President Biden on Monday said he had approved an emergency declaration for Florida.
The 2023 hurricane season is expected to be much busier than initially forecast, in part because of extremely warm ocean temperatures, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.
With Post wires