Hurricane Idalia is a wake-up call for all Floridians

A graphic showing the path of Hurricane Idalia. Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

Residents of Florida are recuperating from several days without power during the heat of the tail-end of the summer. Their recovery begins amidst an ongoing effort to rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Ian, which caused over 150 deaths and generated an estimated 112 billion dollars of property damage.

After spawning in the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Idalia made landfall on the west side of Florida Wednesday, Aug. 30, with many Floridians being ordered to evacuate their homes after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency.

The storm rapidly intensified from a Category 1 to Category 3 hurricane as it made landfall at 7:45 am on Keaton Beach, Fla., reported the National Hurricane Center. Once making contact with the peninsula, it soon returned to a Category 1 with wind speeds of 90 mph.

By Wednesday afternoon, 300,000 power outages had occurred across Florida with homes and buildings left completely destroyed due to the immense flooding events.

Residents of Tampa had to swim in order to find shelter as water levels became too high in order to safely travel outside or in a vehicle. There were many rescue teams involved as citizens were trapped in their vehicles with only crews on boats to save them, according to CBS News reporting from the Tampa Bay area.

The extreme high tide caused major flooding which resulted in damaged homes and left residents without places to live. Roads closed so families could not commute to their jobs, while others were forced to evacuate.

“Most of these surges are from six to eight feet, leaving heavy rain which doesn’t drain out to the ocean and leaves exaggerated flooding around the coastal areas,” said David Nolan, chair of atmospheric sciences and hurricane expert at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Sciences (RSMAS).

The storm surges resulted in leftover flooding that caused major damage to the surrounding infrastructure in these coastal areas. While there was this major damage to both suburban and urban communities that may take years to restore, “all of the environment there has evolved to survive hurricanes so there is low environmental impact in the ecosystems,” said Nolan. Nolan noted that the actual ecosystem itself will likely see lower impacts.

Although the gulf side of Florida was the main concern and bore the brunt of the storm, Miami residents kept an eye on the incoming storm. The worst of the rain events occurred on Tuesday, Aug. 29. The threat of extreme weather still sparked many concerns for anyone in the Caribbean and mid-Atlantic regions, including those in Miami.

For some ‘Canes, such as senior Brook Weiser, hurricanes and storms are no surprise during this tumultuous season.

“I knew Idalia wasn’t going to hit Miami from the reports, but I still kept a close eye out for any updates,” said Weiser, a meteorology student at RSMAS. “Being in South Florida makes us very vulnerable to tropical weather, so being prepared and having a plan in place is the most important thing that any Florida resident can do.”

With less than a year of recovery time between Ian and Idalia, Florida residents are faced with the task of financial and physical rehabilitation at a more rapid pace than previous years.

These extreme weather patterns in Florida, including this year’s record-breaking heat wave and rapid-growing number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, have shown the mounting presence of climate change in recent years. With the magnitude and damage that Idalia has caused to the physical landscape of western Florida, the future of the state’s weather remains unknown as to whether the natural disasters will continue to grow in strength and cause even more strife.