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Hurricane Idalia: Storm surge dangers explained

  • Hurricane Idalia is forecast to produce up to 15 feet of storm surge
  • Surge is produced by water being pushed toward the shore by winds
  • Low-lying areas prone to flooding in normal times are at great risk

(NewsNation) — Hurricane Idalia is set to make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area Wednesday morning, bringing with it a life-threatening storm surge.

Storm surge is the abnormal rise of water over and above predicted tidal levels. It’s produced by water being pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds moving around a storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting Idalia will spur a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet along the northern portion of the western coastline into the Panhandle.

“It’s going to inundate buildings, it’s going to cause a whole bunch of havoc and a whole bunch of problems from all the way across the northwestern parts of Florida,” NewsNation meteorologist Brian James said.

Storm surge can be particularly dangerous for low-lying areas such as the island city of Cedar Key. A National Hurricane Center official said Tuesday “nearly every home” in the community could be flooded when Idalia hits.

Commissioner Sue Colson joined other city officials in packing up documents and electronics at City Hall. She had a message for the almost 900 residents under mandatory evacuation orders. More than a dozen state troopers went door to door warning residents that storm surge could rise as high as 15 feet.

“One word: leave,” Colson said. “It’s not something to discuss.”

Idalia is projected to have sustained winds of up to 120 mph as it approaches Florida, the Hurricane Center said, which would make it a Category 3 hurricane.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents Tuesday night to make final preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Idalia.

“This is crunch time,” he said at the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

Storm surges can severely damage marinas and boats and cause catastrophic flooding in low-lying areas. Fresh water reserves are also at risk of mixing with salt water as the storm surge rises, endangering public health.

A 15-foot storm surge was generated by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Storm surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide levels was associated with Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina was one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of the United States.

Mandy Lemmerman, battalion chief at Dixie County Fire Rescue, said the storm surge could be “devastating” for that community. Public safety officials have urged residents to evacuate to a community shelter or higher ground, including neighboring states.

“This is nothing any of us has ever seen in our lifetime,” Lemmerman said Tuesday on “Elizabeth Vargas Reports.” “We hope people are taking it seriously.”

NewsNation producer Tom Palmer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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