Idalia, a major hurricane headed straight for Florida’s Gulf Coast, is expected to make landfall Wednesday, causing travel chaos along the entire coast.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Idalia reached a maximum wind speed of 80 miles per hour Tuesday with stronger gusts as it moved northward into the Gulf of Mexico. Rapid intensification was forecast by impact, and Idalia was expected to become an extremely dangerous major hurricane before making landfall Wednesday.
Airlines provided travel waivers and canceled flights in advance of the storm, and one airport closed.
At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Tampa International Airport stopped all commercial activity and declared in a statement that it would stay “closed until it can assess any damages later in the week.”
“The closure will allow the Airport and its partners to prepare the airfield and terminals, including the securing of jet bridges, ground equipment, and any remaining aircraft before Idalia’s expected landfall early Wednesday as a potential major hurricane,” Tampa’s airport wrote in the statement.”
“The Airport anticipates reopening Thursday morning, with damage assessments beginning after the storm passes. TPA will closely coordinate the reopening of the Airport with its partners based on roadway safety, facility readiness, and staffing. Any changes to the timing will be promptly communicated.”
Flights were departing from the nearby Southwest Florida International Airport, which is situated in Fort Myers and was briefly shuttered last year following Hurricane Ian, according to a statement, but added “there may be delays or changes to your flights today due to changing weather conditions. Check with your airline for the most up-to-date information.”
According to flight tracker FlightAware, more than 450 flights within, to or from the U.S. had been canceled as of Tuesday morning, most of them originating or terminating in Tampa. Southwest Airlines has the most flight cancelations of any U.S. carrier, with a total of nearly 140 disruptions.
Ahead of the storm, a number of airlines, including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines, granted travel waivers for flights through Wednesday or Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center predicted hurricane-force winds would be up to 15 miles from its center. Longboat Key, located on a barrier island west of Sarasota, and the Tampa Bay area up to Indian Pass, Florida, were all under a hurricane warning.
A number of theme parks, including Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and its sister park Adventure Island Tampa Bay, have announced early closures in addition to travel issues.