Forecasters say Hurricane Idalia will hit Florida's westcoast as an 'extremely dangerous Category 4' hurricane on Wednesday morning. This could be a catastrophic collision in a state already experiencing coastal flooding and deteriorating weather conditions before landfall.
Idalia, a Category 2 hurricane as of early on Wednesday, is expected to intensify further before it reaches Florida's Big Bend Coast, bringing with it damaging winds and storm waves that are once in a lifetime, according to National Hurricane Center.
This could be the region's first major hurricane of Category 3 or higher. Winds of at least 130mph are considered Category 4. This is capable of causing widespread damage.
Idalia was located about 115 miles southwest from Cedar Key, Florida as of 1 a.m. The hurricane center reported that the sustained winds of 110 mph are expected to increase as the storm approaches Florida.
The hurricane center warned that as Idalia moves onshore its core will bring destructive winds, dangerous waves and storm surges up to 16 feet high. This is enough to pile a wall half way up the second story of a typical building.
The National Weather Service, Tallahassee, said that this event could be unprecedented for this area of the state. Don't mess with this one.
The hurricane center warned that a storm surge between 12 and 16 feet is expected to cause 'life-threatening flooding' in parts of Florida's Panhandle.
The Taylor County Sheriff's Office in Big Bend, southeast of Tallahassee said, "There is a great potential for death, and catastrophic destruction."
Ron DeSantis has warned that the Big Bend region will suffer a'significant impact' after the storm. First responders won't be able reach those who remain in the evacuation zones.
DeSantis stated that while the majority of people in Idalia’s path have evacuated, others have chosen to remain behind. DeSantis said to Big Bend residents on Tuesday night, 'You've got to leave now.' Now is the time.
Police in Perry in the Big Bend region warned residents not to try and 'ride out' this storm.
Perry police stated that a storm surge greater than 15 feet high is "not survivable" if caught.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that storm surge is responsible for half of all hurricane deaths. It's also the main reason why most people evacuate during a storm.
Tampa, which is well south of Idalia's projected landfall, also braced for the wrath of Idalia and saw storm surge begin to flood streets on Tuesday.
Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw reported that he witnessed streets which were once dry becoming flooded in a matter of 30 minutes on Tuesday.
Bercaw told a storm-briefing on Tuesday, 'I saw for myself people driving through the water.' Don't be like that person. Remember, turn around, don't drown.'
National Hurricane Center Deputy director Jamie Rhome warned that Cedar Key, located on the southern end of the Big Bend could be cut off from the rest of the world by the high storm tide.
This storm is the worst we've seen. My family has lived here for generations and we've never seen a storm like this.
A tornado watch is also in effect for over 7 million people throughout central and western Florida including Tampa until 6 am. ET Wednesday.
Here are some other developments in Florida as the effects of hurricane Idalia have already been felt along the Florida Gulf Coast.
At least 28 counties have issued evacuation orders: Alachua (including Baker), Citrus, Dixie (including Franklin), Gulf, Hamilton, Hernando and Hillsborough; Jefferson (including Lafayette, Leon, Levy and Madison); Manatee; Marion; Nassau, Pasco including Pinellas, Putnam; Sarasota including Pinellas, Putnam County, Sumter including Taylor, Volusia, Wakulla, Wakulla, Volusia, Wakulla, Wakul
- Travel stopped: Hundreds have been cancelled as Tampa International Airport has suspended commercial operations, and the St. Pete Clearwater International Airport Terminal Building closed on Tuesday.
The National Guard has been mobilized: Around 5,500 National guardsmen are ready to assist with search and rescue efforts following landfall.
Hospitals suspend service: Patients were being moved from at least three hospital: HCA Pasadena, HCA Trinity West and HCA West Tampa. Tampa General Hospital, meanwhile, was building a barrier that would not allow water to pass through. This will enable the hospital to continue providing emergency care.
Bridges are closing: DeSantis warned that residents living in the path Hurricane Idalia's winds would be unable to cross bridges once they reached 40 mph.
Schools and Universities Close: Fifty county school districts, as well as dozens of colleges and university systems in Florida have announced closures.
Thousands of prisoners evacuated. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, approximately 4,000 inmates have been evacuated or moved to facilities that are better equipped to deal with the storm.
DeSantis declared an emergency in 49 out of 67 counties in Florida.
Idalia will have an impact on more than just Florida. After Idalia makes landfall in Florida, heavy rain and damaging winds will continue to spread inland, into Georgia, and even the Carolinas.
The hurricane center stated that after hitting Florida, Idalia is expected to move along or near the coasts Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina on late Wednesday or Thursday.
The hurricane center stated Tuesday evening that 'Idalia will likely still be a Hurricane as it moves across southern Georgia and may even reach the coasts of Georgia or South Carolina by Wednesday.
North Carolina and Georgia also declared state of emergencies as they prepared for flooding and hurricane force wind.
This report was contributed by CNN's Caitlin Kiser, Sara Smart Eric Zerkel Joe Sutton Amy Simonson Dave Alsup Maureen Chowdhury Elis Hammond Ella Nilsen.