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Hurricane Idalia slams Florida's Gulf Coast, Georgia, moves into Carolinas

Idalia leaves trail of destruction in Florida
Idalia leaves trail of destruction in Florida 03:04

Idalia isn't finished with the Southeastern coastal states yet.

Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning as a powerful Category 3 hurricane over Keaton Beach, located along Florida's Gulf Coast near Tallahassee. After rapidly intensifying on its path through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and briefly registering as a Category 4 storm, the hurricane hit Florida's Big Bend area with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. 

Idalia declined in strength as it moved across northern Florida into Georgia and was downgraded to a tropical storm late Wednesday afternoon. It moved into South Carolina Wednesday night, then continued on to North Carolina on a path forecasters said would keep it off North Carolina Thursday before it heads out to sea.

Idalia's projected path as of 5 a.m. EDT on August 31, 2023. National Weather Service / NOAA

The National Hurricane Center said Idalia was bringing heavy rain and "life-threatening flash flooding" to parts of eastern North Carolina early Thursday. But CBS News senior weather and climate producer David Parkinson says, "The primary flash flood threat in North Carolina concludes today by around noontime, and the rain is done by about 7 p.m.," with the storm moving farther an farther out over the Atlantic.

Idalia's maximum sustained winds were 60 mph. "Little change in strength is expected today, but some gradual weakening could occur Friday and Saturday," the center said, adding that storm surges could reach 4 feet in some places on the North Carolina coast.

"Idalia is expected to produce additional rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches" and even up to 6 inches "across coastal North Carolina through this afternoon. This rainfall will lead to areas of flash, urban, and moderate river flooding, with considerable impacts," the center said.

Two people, a 59-year-old Gainsville man and a 40-year-old Spring Hill man, were killed Wednesday when they lost control of their vehicles while out driving during the storm, the Florida Highway Patrol said in a news release.

In Valdosta, Georgia, Wednesday afternoon, a man was killed when a tree fell on him as he tried to clear another tree off a road, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Polk confirmed.

Idalia roars through Georgia and South Carolina after hitting Florida as hurricane 03:22

Some 300,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas had no electricity as of 5:30 a.m. Thursday, according to

Videos and photos showed flooding and damage as the storm brought strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge to the Big Bend region — the stretch of the Gulf Coast where the Florida peninsula meets the Panhandle. Storm surge in the area was forecast to reach up to 12 to 16 feet.

Hurricane Idalia Slams Into Florida's Gulf Coast
A storm-damaged gas station in Perry, Florida is reflected in a puddle after Hurricane Idalia crossed the state on on August 30, 2023. Getty Images

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials said efforts were underway to restore power and roadways in areas hit by the storm.

"We're still assessing what is all going on on the ground in the places that had the initial impact," said DeSantis.

Hurricane Idalia Strikes Florida With Powerful Category 3 Winds
Residents walk through floodwaters from Hurricane Idalia in Gulfport, Florida, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.  Juan Manuel Barrero Bueno/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Where did Hurricane Idalia make landfall?

Idalia made landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast at around 7:45 a.m. ET near Keaton Beach, roughly 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee, Florida's capital city, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

It appeared the city of Perry, about 50 miles southeast of Tallahassee, was hit hardest by Idalia, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, at the governor's afternoon briefing. Guthrie told reporters at the time that the state was coordinating with law enforcement and emergency personnel in Perry to respond to reports of businesses that caught fire or lost their roofs in the hurricane, in addition to one unconfirmed report of a structure collapse.

Madison County, about 35 miles inland, was also weathering the storm's impact, including "a lot of debris on the ground" and near-total loss of power, Guthrie said.

Water levels along the coast of Florida's Big Bend region rose quickly Wednesday morning, and reports from a tide gauge operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicated that levels reached 6.8 feet above the "mean higher high water, which is an approximation of inundation in that area," the hurricane center said. 

Flooding in Steinhatchee, Florida, after Hurricane Idalia made landfall.
The Steinhatchee marina is seen flooded in Steinhatchee, Florida, on August 30, 2023, after Hurricane Idalia made landfall.  CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

A report from Cedar Key showed water levels had risen almost a foot since the hurricane made landfall, even before high tide.

The hurricane center had warned of "catastrophic storm surge and destructive winds occurring in the Florida Big Bend region."

Storm surge, which can occur before, during and after a storm, is considered the greatest threat to life during a hurricane.

Many trees were downed, damaging homes, knocking down power lines and blocking streets. The storm even toppled a 100-year-old oak tree that struck part of the Florida governor's mansion in Tallahassee. The state's first lady, Casey DeSantis, said she and their three children were home at the time, but no one was injured.

Tree toppled by Hurricane Idalia lies at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's government mansion in Tallahassee
A tree toppled by Hurricane Idalia lies on the grounds of the Florida governor's mansion in Tallahassee, August 30, 2023. Ehsan Kassim/USA Today Network via REUTERS

Hurricane Idalia's projected path after landfall

Idalia continued on a northeasterly path after making landfall. Its impact was felt across much of the northern and central parts of Florida, with high winds and heavy rain in addition to dangerous storm surge in coastal areas. 

Meteorologists warned "damaging winds" were already spreading into southern Georgia on Wednesday morning. The center of Idalia crossed over the border into Georgia by 11 a.m. ET, the hurricane center said, adding that the storm continued to drive up water levels along Florida's Gulf Coast. By 8 p.m. ET, Idalia had moved into South Carolina.

In a 5 p.m. ET update, the National Weather Service Tallahassee said "tropical/hurricane warnings have been cancelled. The only concerns through the next 24 hrs weather wise will be lingering coastal flooding, especially at high tides."

The weather service there reported significant spikes in water levels along the nearby Steinhatchee River after Idalia's landfall. Meteorologists previously warned of potentially "unprecedented" conditions in that area, saying a hurricane of Idalia's size had never entered the Apalachee Bay, located just south of the capital city.

"In this part of Florida, particularly the Big Bend coast, we haven't seen a hurricane landfall of this intensity in many, many, many years," Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center, told "CBS Mornings" on Wednesday. Brennan noted the continental shelf in that area of Florida's Gulf Coast amplifies the storm's impact and makes the region more susceptible to devastating storm surge.

"We're gonna see, you know, not just the storm surge but potential for damaging winds extending well inland all the way across portions of north Florida, into southern Georgia, into places like Savannah, Hilton Head. We have hurricane warnings in effect for the fast-moving hurricane. It's going to bring those winds really far inland today and tonight," said Brennan.

In Crystal River, north of Tampa, City Manager Doug Baber told "CBS Mornings" that the most severe storm surge threats would come later in the day on Wednesday, during high tide.

Hurricane Idalia wind speeds

Before reaching Florida, Idalia intensified in the Gulf of Mexico from tropical storm to hurricane strength Tuesday morning. It strengthened further to a Category 2, with sustained winds of 100 mph, on Tuesday afternoon. Overnight, it rapidly intensified to a Category 3 and then Category 4, with winds of 130 mph early Wednesday, before retreating slightly back to Category 3.

The hurricane center later downgraded Idalia to a Category 2 storm, as its maximum sustained winds dropped to 110 mph, and, later, 105 mph, with higher gusts recorded. It was further downgraded to Category 1 at around 11 a.m. ET, as maximum sustained winds fell to 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. By noon, maximum sustained wind speeds were at 85 mph.

Idalia was downgraded further to a tropical storm after its wind speeds dropped below 74 mph.

Hurricane Idalia Strikes Florida With Powerful Category 3 Winds
A destroyed home is seen in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Idalia made landfall on the Gulf Coast on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.  Christian Monterrosa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Category 3 means a hurricane has maximum sustained winds between 111 mph to 129 mph. Category 2 corresponds with maximum sustained winds between 96 mph and 110 mph, while Category 1 storms have maximum sustained winds between 74 mph and 95 mph.

Any storm that reaches a Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — which runs from 1 to 5, based on a storm's wind speeds — is considered a "major hurricane," with the potential for "significant loss of life and damage," the National Hurricane Center says. 

With a Category 3 storm, "Devastating damage will occur," the hurricane center warns. "Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes."

How long is Hurricane Idalia supposed to last?

Idalia was still a hurricane as it moved into southern Georgia, but then weakened into a tropical storm. It was still bringing heavy rain and the threat of tornadoes as it continued into South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said.

Idalia is expected to turn more toward the east and move offshore into the Atlantic on Thursday, decreasing in strength as it travels.

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