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Hurricane Idalia eye comes ashore near Keaton Beach, Fla.

In an aerial view, a fire is seen as flood waters inundate the downtown area after Hurricane Idalia passed offshore Wednesday in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Joe Raedle
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In an aerial view, a fire is seen as flood waters inundate the downtown area after Hurricane Idalia passed offshore Wednesday in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

Updated August 30, 2023 at 8:06 AM ET

Follow our digital live coverage for the latest updates on this story.

The National Hurricane Center says the eye of Hurricane Idalia has come ashore near Keaton Beach, Fla.

Idalia has sustained winds of 125 mph — which is a powerful Category 3 "major hurricane." The storm, which had been a Category 4 early Wednesday morning, weakened slightly just before landfall.

Hurricane historian Phil Klotzbach says Idalia is tied with the Cedar Key Hurricane of 1896 as the strongest storms to ever hit that area.

Overnight, forecasters increased the storm surge potential to as high as 16 feet from the Wakulla/Jefferson County line to Yankeetown, Fla.

The NHC also issued a hurricane warning for the southeast coast of the United States from the Altamaha Sound in Georgia to Edisto Beach in South Carolina.

Overnight, swells from Idalia had roiledthe Gulf of Mexico. A buoy (#42099) near the storm reported a wave height of nearly 34 feet.

Idalia's wind speeds experienced "rapid intensification" since Tuesday morning, a classification that the NHC defines as an increase in the maximum sustained winds of at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period. Such a rapid increase in wind speed used to be a rarity, but is happening more frequently, in part, because of climate change.

Idalia was sending heavy rain bands up the South Florida coast as the storm moved through the hot, jacuzzi-like temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico. That warm water helped fuel a rapid intensification of Idalia.

As the storm neared Florida, local officials in the state warned residents to remain vigilant. In Tampa, for instance, city leaders warned the worst of what could be a 4-to-6-foot storm surge could happen on Wednesday – well after the storm has passed.

In a briefing, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Floridians to "be ready for impact," in discussing the pending arrival of Hurricane Idalia in the Big Bend region.

Previous forecasts had called for a 10-to-15-foot storm surge. That is several feet higher than what was predicted last year during Hurricane Ian, which walloped and decimated Fort Myers Beach. "This could have really, really significant storm surge on those coastal areas alongside the Big Bend. Storm surge of this magnitude is not something we've seen on this part of Florida in any of our lifetimes," DeSantis said.

The Big Bend region is where the Florida peninsula and panhandle come together and is a rural and low-lying area – punctuated with quaint and old-time fishing villages and tiny beach communities.

"We are going to experience historical flood surge up into the Big Bend area," said Kevin Guthrie, executive director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "This is nothing to be messing around with."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
Kevin Drew

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