Hurricane Idalia, maybe the most major storm of the 2023 hurricane season so far, is on track to hit Florida this week as an "extremely dangerous major hurricane."
As of the latest update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) from Tuesday morning, Idalia was located about 85 miles north of the western tip of Cuba and about 370 miles south-southwest of Tampa, FL. It was producing winds of up to 75 mph as it moved north at 14 mph.
The NHC expects Idalia to move over the eastern Gulf of Mexico today, reach the Gulf coast of Florida on Wednesday, and move close to the Carolina coastline on Thursday. The question now is how big of an impact Idalia will have on Florida and its residents.
The NHC, for its part, has a Hurricane Warning in effect for the area starting at the middle of Longboat Key north to India Pass, which includes Tampa Bay. It then has a Tropical Storm warning in effect for Dry Tortugas, Chokoloskee northward to the Middle of Longboat Key, west of Indian Pass to Mexico Beach, and Sebastian Inlet, FL to Altamaha Sound, GA.
It also has a Storm Surge Warning in effect for Englewood northward to Indian Pass, again the area that includes Tampa Bay.
Several counties have already issued evacuation orders ahead of Idalia’s arrival, including Baker County, Citrus County, Dixie County, Franklin County, Jefferson County, Lafayette County, Pinellas County, Sarasota County, Volusia County, and more.
While the advice for residents varies county by county, in general, the advice is to avoid coastal and low-lying areas. A lot of counties have set up shelters for those who do need to evacuate, including Tampa Bay's Hillsborough County.
Anyone staying in Florida through Idalia, particularly those in the Hurricane Warning area, is encouraged to check with their county for guidance.
Tampa Bay International closes
Tampa Bay International, possibly the largest airport in Idalia's expected path, closed its doors to travelers on Tuesday morning at 12:01 a.m. local time.
"When sustained winds reach 40 m.p.h., aircraft and critical airport systems cannot operate," it said in an alert. "As such, depending on the weather event and its timing, a suspension time has to be identified well before these stronger winds arrive to allow time to not only secure the airport infrastructure that could be damaged by strong winds or flooding but ensure employees and passengers can make necessary arrangements to stay safe"
The airport said it will only reopen after damage assessments are made, which begins as soon as it is safe to do so.
All major U.S. carriers either updated their travel waivers for Idalia on Monday or issued new ones.
American Airlines’ waiver includes travel to, from, or through, Charleston, Daytona Beach International, Southwest Florida International, Gainesville Regional, Hilton Head, Jacksonville, Myrtle Beach, Orlando International, Sarasota, Savannah/Hilton Head International, Tallahassee, and Tampa.
American is allowing travelers scheduled for travel through Aug. 31 to change their flight without penalty, as long as they don’t change their origin or destination city and rebook in the same cabin.
Delta Air Lines’ waiver includes travel to, from, or through Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, Charleston International Airport, Columbus Airport, Daytona Beach International, Southwest Florida International, Gainesville Regional, Hilton Head, Jacksonville, Key West, Myrtle Beach, Orlando International, Panama City, Sarasota, Savannah/Hilton Head International, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Valdosta.
Delta is waiving fare differences for those scheduled through Aug. 31 as long as travel occurs on or before Sept. 3 in the same class of service.
Frontier’s waiver includes Southwest Florida International, Sarasota, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah/Hilton Head International, and Myrtle Beach for travel through Aug. 31.
JetBlue’s waiver includes Southwest Florida International, Jacksonville, Orlando, Sarasota, Savannah/Hilton Head, and Tampa. The carrier is allowing travelers scheduled through Aug. 30 to rebook their flights for travel through Sept. 2 and giving those with canceled flights the option of choosing a full refund instead.
Southwest’s waiver includes Charleston International Airport, Columbus Airport, Destin/Ft. Walton Beach, Southwest Florida International, Jacksonville, Myrtle Beach, Orlando International, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota, Savannah/Hilton Head International, Tallahassee, and Tampa. It is waiving all fare differences for changes made for those cities.
Southwest is also allowing those traveling through Sarasota or Tampa to change their departure or origin city to other Florida airports without paying additional charges.
United’s waiver includes Charleston, Hilton Head, Jacksonville, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Southwest Florida International, Savannah, Sarasota, and Tampa. The carrier is allowing changes for those scheduled to travel through Aug. 31 without penalty or fare differences.
As airlines react, so do other Florida travel institutions, including Walt Disney World Resort, which issued a statement on Monday saying that, while it was operating under normal circumstances, it was monitoring the storm.
“We are closely monitoring the path of the projected weather as we continue to prioritize the safety of our Guests and Cast Members,” it said. Disney is allowing all of its guests to reschedule or cancel their stay without any cancellation fees.
Another big Orlando-based resort and theme park, Universal Orlando, said the same—it is currently operating as normal, but it monitoring the progress of Idalia. If Orlando is included in any warnings from the NHC within seven days of arrival, guests can reschedule or cancel without any fees as long as they or their advisor booked through Universal.
VISIT FLORIDA, the state's tourism marketing arm, is alerting travelers to continue to monitor Idalia if they are scheduled to travel to the state this week.
"VISIT FLORIDA is currently monitoring Tropical Storm Idalia and will provide updates as the situation unfolds. Visitors to the state should continue to monitor the progress of the storm over the next several days," it said. The organization has a live feed of the weather from a number of locations along both of Florida's coasts on its website.