Forecasters keep a close eye on Idalia. It is expected to hit Florida's Gulf Coast
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
In Florida, almost a third of the state's 67 counties have ordered either mandatory or recommended voluntary evacuations as the state braces for a major hurricane.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Yeah, I'm looking at the website here of the National Hurricane Center, which says it is expected to rapidly intensify into an extremely dangerous major hurricane before coming ashore Wednesday north of Tampa Bay. This is the first storm to hit Florida this hurricane season, and it approaches about a year after Hurricane Ian struck the Gulf Coast.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from St. Petersburg. Greg, first off, where's Idalia? How's it looking?
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Idalia is moving north through the Gulf of Mexico. This is - storm is on a path that's headed toward Florida's Big Bend area, it appears. That's the place on the Gulf Coast where the peninsula meets the panhandle. It's a relatively undeveloped part of the state. And that track, of course, may change somewhat as we go forward. But whatever happens, the storm's likely to have a big impact on areas far from where it makes landfall. The storm surge in that Big Bend area may be as high as 12 feet. The National Hurricane Center says tropical storm force winds extend 150 miles from the center of the storm. And a hurricane warning is in effect for hundreds of miles of Florida's Gulf Coast, from Tampa Bay nearly to Panama City. So people have today to make final preparations before the expected landfall tomorrow.
MARTÍNEZ: If it does wind up hitting north of Tampa, is that a relief for people near there?
ALLEN: Well, still a lot of concern here about storm surge. The National Hurricane Center says its storm surge is likely to be 4 to 7 feet here. And that's worrisome because Tampa Bay area is so low and so prone to flooding, the area around it. It's also a time of year when tides are especially high. And some streets here have already seen flooding from high tides. Florida's director of emergency management, Kevin Guthrie, has been trying to get the word out to communities like Tampa that may be south of where Idalia makes landfall. He's warning that with the rain and the storm surge, there's going to be significant flooding. And high winds are likely to cause power outages.
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KEVIN GUTHRIE: You're going to be in the right front portion of that hurricane. That's what they call the dirty side of the storm. You're going to experience problems. You're going to experience power outages. So please be prepared for those power outages.
MARTÍNEZ: For the last several weeks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been spending a lot of time in another state, Iowa, which he hopes will help him in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Clearly, he's back in Florida now.
ALLEN: Yes, he's here. And he's held a series of news conferences yesterday, updating Floridians on the storm, giving them information on how to prepare. We'll likely hear a bunch of those today again. This is something that DeSantis has done well and which helped him politically in Florida. Yesterday, he was asked if his rivalry, even antagonism with President Biden might affect their ability to work together in responding to the storm. Here's what DeSantis said.
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RON DESANTIS: When you have situations like this, you've got to put the interests of the people first. I mean, there's time and a place to have political season, but then there's a time and a place to say that this is something that's life-threatening.
ALLEN: The White House says the two men talked yesterday. Biden told DeSantis that he's approving Florida's request for a federal disaster declaration.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So after Idalia makes landfall, what other parts of Florida, maybe parts of the southeastern United States could be affected?
ALLEN: Well, Idalia is likely to bring lots of rain, as much as 12 inches, they're saying, in some areas. That would be in parts of north Florida, Georgia and into the Carolinas as it goes forward. In Ian and past hurricanes, we've seen substantial flooding days after the storm makes landfall as rivers crest. Officials are warning that several rivers in north Florida may flood after Idalia makes landfall.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Greg Allen in St. Petersburg. Greg, try to stay dry.
ALLEN: Will do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.