Hurricane Idalia was downgraded to a tropical storm as it crossed Georgia on Wednesday.
It walloped Florida as a Category 3 hurricane with winds up to 125 mph, heavy rain, and storm surge.
The storm's forecast to cause continued flash flooding, strong winds, and power outages on Thursday.
After walloping Florida's Gulf Coast, Hurricane Idalia weakened to a tropical storm as it churned through Georgia toward the Carolinas on Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center said Idalia's forecast to bring continued flash flooding and winds up to 60 mph along North Carolina's coast before heading back out to the Atlantic on Thursday. The storm should reach Bermuda over the weekend.
The cyclone made landfall in Florida's Big Bend region as an "extremely dangerous" Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday morning. Its eye moved inland near Keaton Beach, Florida, around 7:45 a.m. ET, the NHC said, with maximum sustained winds near 125 mph.
It was the first time a major hurricane struck Florida's Apalachee Bay since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1851.
Idalia was forecast to push up to 16 feet of seawater onshore in a devastating storm surge.
—Jim Cantore (@JimCantore) August 30, 2023
Two storm-related deaths have been reported so far — people who died in separate car crashes related to Idalia's rainfall, Fox 35 Orlando reported.
The storm went on to pummel Georgia and southern South Carolina with hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall for several hours.
On Wednesday night, rapid flooding hit downtown Charleston, South Carolina, with tide levels rising above 9 feet, according to the NWS, posing a serious risk of further coastal flooding.
Watches and warnings still in effect in Idalia's path
As of 11 a.m. ET on Thursday, all hurricane warnings have been discontinued.
However, a tropical storm warning — shown in blue above — is still in effect from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to the North Carolina-Virginia border, Pamlico County, and Albemarle Sounds.
A storm-surge watch, which indicates a danger of life-threatening flooding from waters pushed inland by the storm, is in effect in areas of North Carolina, including from Beaufort Inlet to Ocracoke Inlet, and along the Neuse and Pamlico rivers.
"Water actually is the leading cause of fatalities due to hurricane," Rosimar Rios-Berrios, a hurricane scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Insider. That includes the initial storm surge, but also the flooding that happens afterwards as streets fill with water from rain.
Power outages and evacuations
Idalia brought hurricane-force winds to southern Georgia and southern South Carolina. The NHC warned on Wednesday morning that residents there "should be prepared for long-duration power outages."
On Thursday morning, more than 140,000 Florida households were still without power, in addition to about 97,000 in Georgia, 10,500 in South Carolina, and 13,000 in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us.
In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, DeSantis said the state had dispatched 1,500 linemen, staged 420,000 gallons of gasoline, and activated all of the state's urban search and rescue teams to prepare for the hurricane.
"Not all heroes have capes — some have hard hats," Jimmy Patronis, chief financial officer of the state of Florida, said during the presser.
The sheriff's office of Florida's Pasco County reported evacuating more than 60 people from flooded homes. The Tallahassee National Weather Service said it was getting reports of water rescues in Georgia's Lowndes county as the storm moved through.
Some Florida counties have begun to lift evacuation orders, though 10 still had some kind of order in place on Thursday morning, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Florida first lady Casey DeSantis said she and her three children were safe after Idalia's winds knocked over a 100-year-old tree onto the governor's mansion in Tallahassee.
Florida airports reopening after storm damage
Tampa International Airport said it would reopen to incoming flights only on Wednesday afternoon. The airport sustained "minimal damage," it announced on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. It opened up for departing flights Thursday morning.
Long-term problems with infrastructure
After rescue crews take care of the immediate dangers, there are still many effects of a hurricane left behind to deal with, said Rios-Berrios with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
"We worry about what can happen after the storm," she said, giving the example of 2017's Hurricane Maria. There, she said power outages persisted over a hundred days. People trapped in their homes sweltered in the heat waves that followed the storm.
And people in nursing homes and hospitals were without power too, robbing them of access to life saving electrical equipment. An estimated 2975 people died in the aftermath of Maria, according to researchers from George Washington University.
Though they can't all be attributed to lost power, Rios-Berrios said that definitely played a role. So rebuilding infrastructure and reestablishing access to utilities is of key importance in the days following these storms.
"Now I'm not sure this would be the case with Hurricane Idalia, but it's very important to take that into account that for the possible hazards that could come after the hurricane," she said.
Warm seas to fuel an above-average hurricane season
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season earlier this month, predicting an "above normal" season with up to 11 hurricanes, with two to five of them reaching Category 3 or higher.
Scientists can't attribute any single storm to the climate crisis without further analysis. On the whole, though, rising global temperatures are driving a trend of increasing hurricane strength (aka wind speed).
That's because cyclones feed on warm waters and can rapidly gain strength in high ocean temperatures. Indeed, NOAA cited "record-warm" Atlantic seas as a major reason for its heightened season forecast.
Storms can also dump more rainfall now because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. Storm surge — ocean water that a cyclone pushes onto the land — can also creep higher due to sea-level rise.
Climate change may even be slowing down the progress of cyclones, meaning they sit over an area for longer, wreaking more destruction.
DeSantis declared a Florida state of emergency ahead of 'really nasty' hurricane
"This is going to be a powerful hurricane and this is absolutely going to impact the state of Florida in many, many different ways," DeSantis told reporters during a Monday press briefing, ahead of Idalia's arrival.
The Republican governor and presidential hopeful added that conditions were expected to "get really nasty."
DeSantis declared a state of emergency in more than 40 counties in the state and urged Floridians to listen to evacuation orders from local officials and to prepare for the storm.
President Joe Biden said he had spoken to DeSantis and approved an emergency declaration in Florida ahead of the storm. "President Biden said Florida will have his full support as they prepare for Idalia and its aftermath," the White House said in a statement.
Idalia hit Cuba with rain, wind, and flooding on Monday
Idalia swept through Cuba on Monday. There, days of torrential rain and maximum sustained winds of 70 mph caused knee-deep flooding and evacuations, Reuters reported.
The storm hit while the country was still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which struck last year. Coastal and rural parts of the island were hard hit, especially western tobacco-producing regions.
As the storm churned through the Gulf of Mexico north on its path toward Florida, it intensified to a Category 4 hurricane.
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