Lee County has been providing updates on the status of now-Hurricane Idalia since Monday afternoon, when a state of emergency was declared for the county. As of Tuesday morning, the National Hurricane Center announced Idalia strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane and is expected to rapidly intensify later today.
The rapid intensification of the storm means Idalia will increase from a Category 1 to a Category 3 storm in the next 24 hours. Hurricane Idalia is expected to make landfall somewhere near the Big Bend area of the state around midday Wednesday.
Forecasts indicate direct impacts from the storm will pass off the Lee County coast, but indirect impacts will still be felt.
“We’ll start to see some thunderstorms and some of those squall lines and feeder bands come across our area here later this afternoon,” Lee County Chairman Brian Hamman said.
Hamman asks residents of the county to keep in mind the deterioration of the weather that is forecasted as the afternoon approaches. While the eye of the storm passing the county will bring some sort of relief, much of the winds related to Idalia that will drive any kind of onshore or coastal flooding will come after the eye has passed the coast.
“We need to be aware still that the winds and the direction of the winds at that point could continue to drive potential flooding around our coastal areas,” Hamman said. “Just be vigilant overnight.”
It is recommended for residents to stay off the beaches today, to not allow children to play in the rain or in standing water, not drive through flooded water and to stay indoors tonight.
The county doesn’t have any evacuation orders in place and doesn’t anticipate any evacuation orders based on the forecast.
Considering many county residents are still recovering from Hurricane Ian, two safe haven locations have been opened in the county for those who might find themselves in housing that isn’t secure.
“Maybe your home is recovering from Hurricane Ian damage and you don’t feel [or] think it’s strong enough to handle the stronger storms that we’ll see later today, or maybe you’re in a trailer or a mobile home that wouldn’t stand up well to higher winds,” Hamman said.
Estero Recreation Center and North Fort Myers Recreation Center opened as safe havens at 7 p.m. Monday. Safe havens are pet friendly, but a leash or crate is needed, along with pet supplies. There is transportation available to get to the two locations by LeeTran, with the last pickups at 12:30 p.m. today.
As of this morning, Hamman said there are eight people in the North Fort Myers location and none at the Estero location. For those on the outer islands, it’s encouraged that residents who are planning to go to one of the safe havens do so before lunchtime today.
“We are ready there for you should you find yourself in need of a secure place to ride out the storm,” Hamman said. It’s suggested to bring things such as portable chairs, blankets or bedding to make the experience at the safe havens more comfortable.
All Lee County government offices are closed today, but there is still curbside trash pickup.
The Emergency Operation Center is at a Level 1 activation, meaning everybody from every department is monitoring the storm 24 hours a day throughout the duration of the storm.
The Homeless Operations Team is working with Human and Veteran Services to provide information and guidance for transient residents in the community, according to Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno. Operations are ongoing, attempting to contact as many of the residents as possible.
The sheriff’s office has personnel at the safe havens and has two marine unit boats remaining on the waterway. Last night, the marine units made contact with residents living on boats and close to the waterways to ensure they know about the incoming weather and to educate them to be safe during the storm.
“We urge that boaters use extra anchors and seek harborage to get out of the wind,” Marceno said. “Areas in particular are Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa, Hurricane Pass, San Carlos Bay, behind Fort Myers Beach and downtown Fort Myers.”
If winds are sustained at 45 mph, everyone comes off the roadways, including fire, emergency medical services and law enforcement. Emergency 911 calls will still be taken and logged until first responders are able to reengage and deploy.
“Our first responders are out there ready to serve you and ready to take care of you throughout this storm,” Hamman said. “We do live in a beautiful county. We live in a county that is rebuilding from Hurricane Ian that hit us just 11 months ago. I couldn’t be more proud of the progress we’ve made so far, and we will make it through this storm again, whatever it sends our way.”
The county receives all its information used for decision making from county partners at the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay. The county also has a contracted private meteorology company that helps reaffirm some of the information that’s more specific to Lee County.
“We will be praying for our neighbors throughout Florida who are going to ultimately receive the landfall of this storm,” Hamman said. “We stand ready now to offer that help to whatever community gets hit with this. We’re grateful for the help that we’ve received. So, as we said, we’re preparing for the worst and we’re hoping for the best.”
For Hurricane Idalia updates visit WINK News The Weather Authority.