Here we are again. Another potentially huge storm is expected to pick up strength as it plows across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Idalia’s path is uncertain, and it could make landfall anywhere from Manatee County up to the Panhandle as a category 3 or even category 4 hurricane. As of early Monday afternoon, state officials were eying a landfall somewhere near Pinellas County, hitting Wednesday in the dark hours before dawn — but last year’s Ian took a devastating turn toward Lee County, giving hundreds of thousands of residents just a few hours to get of harm’s way. Once it’s over land, it could easily wobble, and a slight deviation could put it on a collision course with highly populated areas including Orlando.
Tropical Storm Idalia nears hurricane strength as it plows toward Florida
“All this is in play right now,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at Monday’s 2 p.m. update. “If you are close to the cone, you should assume there could be a noticeable impact.”
He’s right. We aren’t telling you to panic. But people, get ready.
As Idalia approaches
We go over this list every time a big storm threatens, but it’s worth repeating: The time to prepare is now. If you wait to see exactly where Idalia is headed, you’re probably going to be too late to identify your safest options.
Tropical Storm Idalia: Central Florida braces for impacts, but likely to avoid direct hit
First, find your best local sources of information. The Sentinel’s homepage will include comprehensive links to the latest information, and those articles will be free for anyone to view. You should also subscribe to the social media accounts of your county’s emergency services department and the statewide Emergency Operations Center at www.floridadisaster.org. Check these frequently and keep in mind that even if Idalia heads north, the greater Orlando area could be on its “dirty” side, with increased risk of storm-spun tornados and flooding.
Everyone in the Sentinel’s coverage area who lives in a low-lying area, in a mobile home park or has special needs (particularly those who are dependent on electricity) should have an evacuation plan and be ready to go, with necessary documents, medications, food and water, charging devices and other essentials gathered and ready to load. Those who are in areas already under a watch or warning, including storm-vulnerable residents of Lake and Seminole counties, should consider evacuating now. As DeSantis said, you don’t need to go far: “In almost every instance you can go tens of miles — to a shelter, to a hotel, to a friend’s house — whatever works for you.” Just make sure your relocation point is on higher ground. The one exception to that: People who rely on electricity for life-saving functions. They should get as far away from the storm’s path as feasible, since power outages could occur well outside Idalia’s path. And anyone who is medically vulnerable should register their status with local emergency services.
Other important things to consider:
Take necessary steps to safeguard your residence. Get sandbags, prepare storm shutters or plywood for exposed windows and doors, and secure any outdoor objects — lawn furniture, loose limbs or yard decorations that could become flying missiles.
If you need to restock your hurricane supplies, act quickly; store shelves are emptying even as we speak.
Gas up your vehicles and plug in those chargers. If you plan to evacuate because you fear flooding, consider moving any left-behind vehicles to parking lots in higher ground.
Once you are settled, check on neighbors who might be vulnerable and, if possible, help them make arrangements. Talk to those who have moved to Florida within the past several months and let them know that this is not a drill: They must take this seriously. If they don’t, the consequences could be grim.
Finally, make sure out-of-town family and friends know what your plans are. It’s not a bad idea to select someone and plan for regular check-ins.
Florida looks prepared
Like most Florida leaders, DeSantis has gotten more adept at storm preparation with experience, and that clearly showed at his first two briefings Monday. He was calm and reassuring, but unequivocal: Florida faces another massive threat, and though we don’t know exactly where it will hit or the path it will take, we know some of our fellow Floridians will feel Idalia’s wrath in the coming 48 hours.
It seems, from early briefings, that Florida is as well-prepared as it can be. The state will be assisting congregate-living facilities, nursing homes and others to move medically fragile residents to safe locations as needed. Tens of thousands of utility workers are staging near the Villages and other familiar locations. Tens of thousands of National Guard members have already reported for duty. In every county that could be in Idalia’s path, plans are being made to open public shelters and keep the citizenry informed.
We owe all these Floridians — and those on their way here from other states — a huge debt of gratitude for leaving their own families and homes in a time of emergency.
Those who are lucky enough to stand outside their homes Wednesday afternoon and realize they’ve dodged a bullet, congratulations. But we know that others will be facing scenes of devastation, including the losses of homes and businesses, even lives. They deserve a quick and compassionate response.
We have been here before, and every time, we learn something new. We will be here many times again as global climate goes through violent upheavals. For many Floridians, the events of the next few days will be a strange blend of routine and unpredictability. But we know this is true: We can never afford to take a storm like Idalia lightly, and every resident of Florida must take steps to be their own first line of defense.
The Sentinel’s reporters, editors, photographers and digital team will do our best to keep you updated, but for now, please accept our hopes that you and your family make it safely through this storm.
The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at [email protected]