As Hurricane Idalia barrels towards the U.S. state of Florida, residents in its path have been warned to evacuate immediately. Wednesday morning, a Category 3 hurricane with winds of up to 125 mph (201 km/h) is expected to strike the Gulf Coast.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that Idalia would deliver "life-threatening" weather conditions to the state. Up to 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) of storm surge could inundate coastal areas.
"Very few people can survive being in the path of a major storm surge, and this storm will be fatal if we don't get out of harm's way and take it seriously," said Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The storm was promoted to a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour.
According to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Idalia is expected to strike the vulnerable coastal region of Big Bend, which has not been hit by a significant hurricane since the 1800s.
Big Bend is located roughly where the north-south portion of the state's peninsula curves toward the east-west portion of the Panhandle, along Apalachee Bay. Since 1851, according to the National Hurricane Center, no significant hurricanes have tracked into Apalachee Bay in northwestern Florida.
Several communities in Southwest Florida, including Golden Gate, Naples, and Marco Island, have already been issued tornado watches due to Idalia's outer bands.
As of Tuesday evening, 28 of Florida's 67 counties were under some form of evacuation order, including 14 mandatory orders in counties along the upper Gulf Coast.
Mr. DeSantis urged residents in evacuation zones to seek shelter promptly, stating that those who do not will be unable to do so until the storm has passed.
A large portion of Florida, including the densely populated Tampa region, is preparing for severe weather. The Tampa International Airport is expected to remain closed until Thursday morning, having closed on Tuesday.
The state has opened more than a dozen emergency shelters, including seven in the Tampa Bay area, just south of where Idalia is expected to make landfall.
Along evacuation routes, tolls were waived and 420,000 gallons of petroleum were prepared to be distributed, according to Mr.
More than 5,500 National Guardsmen have been activated in Florida to assist with the state's emergency response, and up to 40,000 utility personnel are on standby to address power outages.
Last year, Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida, causing more than $100 billion (£79 billion) in damages and murdering more than 100 people.
Idalia brushed the western coast of Cuba on Monday, prompting tens of thousands to evacuate in anticipation of flooding and high gusts.
The US states of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina could also experience significant precipitation, according to forecasters.
South Carolina proclaimed a state of emergency on Tuesday in preparation for Idalia.
The effect of climate change on the frequency of tropical cyclones is still unclear, but rising sea surface temperatures warm the air above, making more energy available to fuel hurricanes.
Consequently, they are likely to be more intense with more intense rains.