Idalia expected to make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend as a category 4 hurricane

Two hurricanes, Franklin and Idalia, are actively threatening the southeastern U.S., less than two weeks after Hilary drenched California.

It’s been a stormy August. And Wednesday, Hurricane Idalia is projected to create a catastrophic storm surge for those living in the Florida Big Bend.

First up, Hurricane Hilary.

The first tropical storm to make landfall in California since 1939, Hilary caused extensive flooding in California and other southwestern states. Hilary grew from a category 1 to dangerous category 4 storm in less than 24 hours.

Then Tropical Storm Harold struck southeastern Texas. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported tropical storm winds (45 mph) at 1:00 am CDT on Tuesday, August 22. It made landfall about 10:00 am with 50 mph winds.

Now two hurricanes are actively threatening the southeastern U.S. Less than two weeks after Hilary.

Hurricane Franklin reached category 4 level winds off the southeastern Atlantic seaboard before being downgraded to a Category 3 storm (115 mph). At 2:00 am AST, Wednesday, August 30, the NHC noted that Franklin is preparing to slam into Bermuda.

Life-threatening surf and rip currents generated by Franklin are already affecting Bermuda and the east coast of the United States. These conditions are expected to continue during the next several days.

Finally, we have Hurricane Idalia, which reached category 4 winds early Wednesday morning.
Idalia winds
Like southern California, this part of Florida is not accustomed to hurricanes, big or small. The area forecast for landfall, the Big Bend (where the panhandle and peninsula shake hands), has never experienced a major hurricane. Storm surge projection: 12-16 feet.

Nevertheless, many Gulf-side Floridians may feel a bit of deja vu (or like they are extras in a Groundhog Day remake). After all, last year, Hurricane Ian charged through the Gulf of Mexico, picking up speed due to warm, warm water.

Hurricane Ian and Idalia
Hurricanes Ian and Idalia trek through the Gulf of Mexico.

Ian made landfall in southwestern Florida last September as a category 4 hurricane. The storm caused more than $112 billion in damage and led to more than 150 direct and indirect deaths.

Scientific American points out that storms like Ian and Idalia need warm water, at least 80ºF, to form and grow.

But this summer sea-surface temperatures in parts of the Gulf have reached much higher—including one reading of 100 degrees F. This kind of measurement only involves the top centimeter (0.4 inch) of the ocean at most, however.

Ben Schott, National Weather Service director,  told NOLA that Gulf water off the coast of Louisiana was between 89ºF and 92ºF, “way above normal than where they usually would have been 10, 20 or 30 years ago.”

NOAA’s Ocean Viewer provides point-in-time snapshots of ocean temperature:

Gulf and Atlantic water temperature

According to MIT hurricane professor Kerry Emanuel, Idalia may set a record for its “intensification rate” (how little time is needed to develop intense winds)  because the water is “so warm.”

Storms that are nearing the coastlines, within 240 miles (400 kilometers), across the globe are rapidly intensifying three times more now than they did 40 years ago, a study published last week found. They used to average five times a year and now are happening 15 times a year, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The Gulf of Mexico provides a not insignificant part of that warm water via the loop current. According to NOLA, loop current water “is as warm as 79 degrees 1,000 feet below the surface, and acts as fuel for hurricanes.”

Hurricane Idalia’s path has crossed the loop current, like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did in August and September 2005. Let’s hope the similarity ends there.

Update: Idalia made landfall as a category 3 hurricane.

Featured image: NOAA, satellite image shows both Idalia and Franklin.

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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