Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Idalia Set to Make Landfall Soon as a Category 4 Hurricane; Hurricane Idalia Nears Historic Landfall in Florida's Big Bend. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2023 - 04:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good Wednesday morning and we start with the breaking news we've been following for the better part of the last day and we'll continue to follow for hours to come.

Hurricane Idalia is now a powerful category three hurricane and it's expected to strengthen to a Category 4 storm before it makes landfall in just hours on Florida's Big Ben. You're looking right now at live pictures from Cedar Key, where the rain is whipping sideways, whipping hard. Idalia is less than 100 miles away from the shore right now, churning with 120 mile an hour winds. Forecasters are not mincing words, as they described this storm, this hurricane, calling it dangerous, life threatening, and a once in a lifetime storm that could bring catastrophic storm surge of up to 16 feet in some places.

And just moments ago we got new forecast from the National Hurricane Center, and we have team coverage from the Florida Gulf Coast. We want to start with Sara Sidner, who is down by the water in Crystal River. Sara, it is a very different picture from what we saw yesterday. What are you seeing on the ground right now?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: We are starting to feel some of those bands. We are getting the win now. We have also seen the rain as well and of course the water extremely choppy and rising. Now I want to get straight over to our Derek Van Dam from here in Crystal City. He joins us from Tampa every hour. We get an update from the National Hurricane Organization, please let us know what is the latest forecast for Hurricane Idalia.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Sara, you know you're starting to feel the system as well as much as we are, but we are on a highly susceptible road area here in Tampa. This is called Bayshore Drive and we now are approaching high tide, which is roughly 4:00 in the morning, 4:07 in the morning to be exact. We're staring down the eye of a monster. The latest satellite shows exactly how large the system has become -- 125 miles per hour -- that makes it a powerful category three. We are really teetering on a Category 4 hurricane here.

But I want to show you around. Look at Bayshore Drive. Time this is normally filled with road -- with vehicles closer to around 5:00 in the morning. Right? We're approaching the early morning rush hour in Tampa, and of course, that's not going to be taking place today. Because you cannot drive over this road. Now locals understand and know that Bayshore Drive floods are regularly but this is title storm surge and it's exactly what the National Hurricane Center had warned the public about to stay away from this particular area.

Now we did venture several blocks inland and we're also noticing that the surge, which is about one to two feet, has made its way a couple of city blocks away from Bayshore Drive. This area that normally has a sidewalk completely inundated with water. I'll show you down an intersection that's just up the road here, and you can see the waves crashing up and over the sea wall, quite dramatic by the traffic signal behind me over my right-hand shoulder.

And when we talk about this storm surge threat in Tampa Bay, they lowered it by 1 foot -- four to six feet for this particular location. But regionally we know that the storm surge threat is greatest across the Great Bend area and that's where we anticipate this landfalling major hurricane in the coming hours. And they upped those forecast totals to 12 to 16 feet. That is catastrophic for storm surge.

If you have not left it is your last moment of time before the conditions really start to deteriorate from Cedar Key north to Saint Marks and you know, looking at this latest forecast model from the National Hurricane Center, it's very telling to show what the potential outcome of the Cedar Key region is, anywhere from complete inundation to water well over my head, and in that part of the town. So it is going to be telling when the sun comes up to really see the impacts from this hurricane in Cedar Key, the Big Bend area, that Appalachia Bay region. And here in Tampa Bay, we're feeling it's certainly with surge, but it will be more catastrophic further north into Florida Peninsula as you travel -- Sara.

SIDNER: You know, I find it remarkable because you're not even anywhere, you know, near the eye of the storm. But you are getting these intense winds. What have you been seeing throughout the evening?


I know that it has it just progressively changes because every now and then it gets calm and then all of a sudden you get this burst of wind and then these really strong showers. Give us some sense of that progression.

VAN DAM: Yes, Sara, you make such a good point here because we literally are maybe 150 miles to the south and east of the core of this hurricane. So that just proves the point that we harped on yesterday that impacts will be felt well away from the center of the storm, the center of the hurricane, which we know is the most powerful part of a hurricane.

But the fact that we're getting this amount of push from the Tampa Bay and Gulf of Mexico into populated areas like Tampa, is several dozen of miles away from this center of the storm, really tells you something. This storm is going to have wide reaching impacts for the entire western coastline of the Florida Peninsula, especially that it's had so much time and energy to push this water into the little nooks and into the cranny of all those west facing shorelines of the Gulf of Mexico here on the Florida Peninsula. So we anticipate conditions here to remain about as is through about high tide here for the next hour or so. We'll see that tide start to fall throughout the course of the morning, but another high tide cycle around 2:00 this afternoon. By the way, this is made worse, by the impacts of what is a Super Moon? And so we have a greater tug, a great -- a greater tidal swing. So that is just going to exacerbate the tidal and storm surge threats that are facing these coastlines -- Sara.

MATTINGLY: Hey Derek. I just want to -- it's Phil in New York. I just want to follow up on what Sara was talking about for context for viewers where you're standing right now, that is a central organ for commuters, a central roadway in Tampa. If you're familiar with the area at all. And I think given the fact that the correct kind of direct hit that people were fearing for Tampa has shifted away. You think, well, maybe it's not going to be affected that much. You're talking four to six feet on a surge in that area where you're standing right now. Which is not in the direct path of the hurricane. It's about 100 miles offshore right now. Can you talk to people about what 4 to 6 feet even that far away from the direct path of the storm would actually mean?

VAN DAM: Well, look, there is the sea wall over my left-hand shoulder here. And that's normally the barrier for the Tampa Bay water to stay at bay, literally away from Bayshore Drive. Yes, we know that these floods, but four to six feet of water has pushed up and over the sea wall, so it had a bit of wiggle room to work with. But we're definitely realizing that 4-to-6-foot storm surge as this continuous pounding of wind comes in now.

Now another factor here, too, Phil, is that localized inland flooding is a possibility as well. So not only are we getting this surge and this push of water into Tampa Bay, the major artery here being Bayshore Drive, but we've got heavy rainfall occurring within the city within the town. That water wants to exit into the bay -- into the Tampa Bay.

So what happens? Well, the two waters kind of collide. The coastal water, the storm surge, and the inland flooding. And what do they do? Well, water seeks its own level, so it goes up. And that's what we anticipate to take place here in the coming minutes and hours.

SIDNER: Derek Van Dam, thank you for showing us what is happening there in Tampa and giving us a look, an overview of exactly how this monster storm is going to land, where it is going to land and the potential damage. The most important thing people need to get out of the areas that will see catastrophic flooding. Thank you so much. We will check back in with you because every hour we do get an update of where the storm is going and whether it is wobbled to another place. I appreciate it.

Now I want to let you know where I am. I'm about 80 miles from where Derek Van Dam is in Tampa. I am in Crystal River. We are -- we are north of Derek. And then another 50 miles away. So we're closer to where the eye of the storm is. Another 50 miles away is where Cedar Key is, which is supposed to get a direct hit.

But look at what happens. Earlier today it was pouring down rain. In the next few minutes it's been gusting and now it's relatively calm and this is pretty normal. This is what happens in a hurricane. I do want to give you some sense of exactly where this place is and the people who live here.

Let me give you just a little bit of look. This is where they bring boats. This is the home of Florida's beloved manatee. You can go and you can be in the water around the manatees here, and a lot of people come here for that. But it is a small place and I want to give you an idea of what we're talking about, how high this water may go.

Come with me, Adolfo. He's going to show you. This, by the way, yesterday you'll see a lot of this grass here that's been pushed up and out of the of the -- of the waters here.


But I want to give you some sense of this sign. Because we talk about in this area, it is predicted between 7- and 9-foot storm surge. I am 5'9'. So at the top of this we are talking almost two of these. This may be underwater when this major storm surge happens, and that is why people are being told you are not going to do well if you stay in a place that is this low. By the way, all of Crystal City as we move past and go back to where the water is, it is a wonderful and beautiful place when things are calm and when there's no hurricane coming.

But all of Crystal River, the entire town is under a flood zone and that is why authorities here have said get out. Get out now. Please make your way to some higher ground. It doesn't have to be 100 miles away. It can be just a few miles away. But you want to get up to slightly higher ground because this entire city is in a flood zone. This is a city of about or a town of about 3,400 people. We did notice last night a lot of people boarding up their homes. There are homes very, very, very close to this water because it's such a beautiful place to live.

But people understand here that there is a true danger. They have been through this before, but they have never seen the storm surge that is predicted for this place. The highest it has gotten, by the way, Phil, is about four feet, we're talking 7 -- potentially 7 to 9 feet of flooding here, so we really, really, really want to make sure that people understand the danger -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's so important. I feel like there have been a number of storms, a number of hurricanes that have been headed towards that region over the course of the last several years and some have not reached the scale or the intensity as predicted, which is a good thing -- I would note. And therefore perhaps people are not reacting with some of the urgency we've heard from first responders we've been talking to over the course of the last 24 hours. But they would have like not entirely the case, not kind of the dominant response here, but I think there's a reaction that is based on history. And you talked about history, Sara, and you had Governor Ron DeSantis saying we haven't seen anything like this in that region in that particular area. You'd have to go back more than a century to find some type of precedent, some type of analogue here. The one question I have from where you are -- we've been showing the

split screen between Cedar Key and you. Cedar Key the rain is just whipping through sideways, kind of ripping across the screen. That's one of the areas it's supposed to be directly in the path.

But I was also watching your live shot before we went on air. And to your point, it's kind of ebbed and flowed. It was raining. There was a lot of wind, and then it slowed down. I think the scale of this in terms of covering 80,90, a 100, 120, a 130 miles -- 80 miles, I think where you are, compared to where the direct hit is expected to be. I'm not totally sure people can get their heads around it and what you're describing there. When you were talking to people on location preparation wise, do they feel like they're ready for this moment?

SIDNER: You know, a lot of people have been through a lot of something that is similar, but never this intense in these areas. But when they do deal with things like tropical storms, sometimes it's something that is far smaller that does quite a bit of damage and certainly a ton of flooding because this area is so low. Because this area is basically at sea level, the entire town knows that it can be inundated with water. Maybe it's a couple feet. Maybe it's four. Maybe it's five. Once it's at that point it is way up and into homes. There is worry it's going to get up into City Hall, for example.

So the authorities here and the people who live here. They're not used to something like this because this is a almost a once in a lifetime event for them. But they are very aware of what can happen with the flooding. And look, here is the absolute truth. Is that they're always going to be people, Phil, who say I'm not leaving my home. This is what I know, whatever happens, happens.

But here's the problem with that. If you have never seen an event like this. If this turns out to be 7-to-9-foot storm surge, those people will need to be rescued, and that is why authorities are saying we cannot come help you during the storm when it is at its height, when the waters are rising. We cannot be there for you. We don't want you to be in a position where you are literally trying to save your own life by going on the top of roofs, for example. And so they're trying to get people to understand that they may never have seen something that is this extreme -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and you make that point in terms of the intensity and the scale of what we're looking at right now. Lack of precedent certainly in the near term. We just got the latest update from the National Hurricane Center. Winds now at 125 mph, that's five mph away from being labeled a Category 4 storm. That is the prediction that it will intensify from a category 3 to a category 4 now just five miles away from that.


When you look at kind of the heart of this hurricane that is headed towards the Gulf Coast, towards that Florida region at the moment. So it is serious. It is significant. It is as big as they were expecting and the scale right now, as we've been talking kind of up and down the course coast of where you are, Sara, is certainly something that you not only need to pay attention to the heed the warnings of, but kind of batten down the hatches to some degree. This is certainly coming. It's coming within the next couple of hours.

Sara, we're going to be going back and forth throughout the course of this morning. Over the course of the next several hours, we'll be talking to Derek Van Dam, again as well. And Tampa, we've got team coverage throughout the area, including in the direct path of this hurricane as it approaches Florida.

There is no question it is big. It is very dangerous. You can use pretty much any descriptor you want. Certainly forecasters have been doing that over the course of the last several hours, and we're going to be watching it every step of the way, trying to give you as much information as we can throughout the course of this morning. Stay with us, we'll be back shortly.



SIDNER: All right, I am live here in Crystal River, Florida. We are about 50 miles from where the eye of the storm is. We are about 80 miles from Tampa, so we're kind of in the middle there in Northwest Florida.

I want to give you some sense of what is going on here. We are in one of the lulls where the bands of wind and the bands of rain, they come and go. We are starting to get another one of those bands I can sort of feel and you may be able to hear the wind starting to kick up now once again and we expect there to be another band of rain coming through.

The big fear here in Crystal River is that this town of about 34- 3,500 people is in a flood zone. The entire town is in a flood zone and this is something they may have never seen in their lifetime. If predictions come true, we're talking about 7 to 9 feet of storm surge. I am standing at water level, I am 5'9". We're talking about something that is far over my head, which is why all of the homes on either side of me would be inundated with water. They are telling people they must get out of this zone. Really, they should have left last night. They were telling people to please evacuate. Don't get caught in this. But it is still possible to get out of the storm's way. They don't have to go far. But they do need to get away from these low-lying areas.

All right, now we are joined by Aaron, who is in a plane. He is a hurricane hunter, who has been chasing this storm, watching this storm, seeing the way that this storm is forming and giving us all information that we really need as to what's happening with this storm. Can you hear me, sir?


SIDNER: Give us some sense of where you are, first off and thank you so much for coming on, Aaron Jayjack. We appreciate you and we appreciate what you do because it's so important to give data back to everyone on the ground so we can understand what's happening with the storm. Can you tell me what you are seeing, what you are experiencing?

JAYJACK: Yes, so I'm here in Perry, Florida, which looks to be right in the dead center of the forecast cone. The cone of uncertainty that appears to be an area that's going to take the brunt of Hurricane Idalia. Now a major hurricane category three expected to be category four when it makes landfall here in the next 5 to 6 hours. And now we've started to get rain here. We've got a steady rain here in Perry. Started several -- ago and I'm starting to see that rain. It's now starting to fall at an angle, so that means those winds are starting to increase now each passing (INAUDIBLE) makes it towards bend (INAUDIBLE).

SIDNER: Aaron, you were cutting out just a little bit. I know that that happens because the rain can hit you sideways and so it can be really, really, really uncomfortable. It feels like little pins in your face when you get hit with that at the wind speeds that are about to happen here. I am going to leave you where you are. Please be safe as these bands of rains and wind come in.

And I want to go to Derek Van Dam, who is in Tampa. Like I said, I'm about 80 miles north of where you are and you are experiencing these bands as well in a very significant way. Anyone who thought that just because they aren't near the eye of the storm or aren't in the midst of the middle of the storm, that they may get away with not seeing any major effects, you can show where you are because that is absolutely not true at this hour.

VAN DAM: Yes, 100 percent, Sara, this is exactly what we what we feared storm surge 4 to 6 feet within the Tampa Bay region. We are on Bayshore Drive a very kind of dramatic scene unfolding behind us. Now this would normally be a major artery through Tampa Bay and to the apartments and buildings just to our south. But what you're seeing is a completely deserted roadway. This is a road that I'm standing on and look at the waves crashing over the shoreline there. This is quite a scene. This is storm surge 4 to 6 feet and just because we were or are 150 miles away from the center of the strongest part of Idalia doesn't mean that we're not going to have the impacts.

And look, it's not just right along the immediate coast. Any local native to Tampa Bay understands that Bayshore Drive floods when it rains. It happens. However, this is a different kind of water. This is all storm surge. A push from the ocean. And that push has made its way up city blocks as well.

So we're going to pan a little bit this way and show you some of the homes that are quite susceptible to this. Just within the past 45 minutes since we've been here, the water has come up and over this boulevard. You can see it here -- kind of marshy area. And it also impacted the other side of Bayshore Boulevard, which goes in the opposite direction away from downtown. And you can see these homes, and it's also Impacted the other side of Bayshore Boulevard, which goes in the opposite direction away from downtown and now you can see these homes. The water starting to lap up into their front yards.

Now listen, high tide was about 15 minutes ago. So we do expect that the water level should slowly start to come down before another high tide cycle occurs later this afternoon.

But Sara, this is all working in coordination together. Not only the push of water from Idalia, but also the high tide and a Super Moon which gives that greater tug on the tidal cycles here across the bay and into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The storm continues to strengthen, even if you're well away from the center of this storm. This is proof this storm could impact you. Take it seriously. Stay off the roads this morning.

SIDNER: Derek, thank you for showing people sort of what is happening there and why they have been asked to stay away from the low lying areas. They won't be able to traverse them with any amount of safety. I do want to talk to you about the tide. Because this is an unusual event all coming together as a hurricane is coming to an area. Is not used to getting these large storms hit -- having a direct hit from them? Can you give us some sense of what that high tide is? The king tide, I think it's called if I'm correct. Because of what's happening with the alignment of the planets. And that's all happening as this hurricane is coming, which is why the storm surge -- and you correct me if I'm wrong. But why the storm surge is going to be so incredibly dangerously high.

VAN DAM: OK, so this king tide and this Super Moon playing a major impact here, along with the winds that are pushing up the ocean from the Gulf of Mexico. But the earth is -- well, the moon, I should say, is literally 18,000 miles closer than it normally is on its rotation around the earth. So that is called a Super Moon, it appears larger in the sky, especially when it's on the horizon. But it also has that greater force on our tidal cycles across the planet. And we're feeling the impacts of that closer proximity to the moon.

So we have our combination of strong winds from a major hurricane pushing up the waters from the Gulf of Mexico into the Tampa Bay region. We have also inland flooding, so heavy rain in the town of Tampa Bay. Elsewhere across the Florida Peninsula, that water wants to exit the land and back into the ocean. Of course, those waters meet together. What happens? The water levels start to rise. So we've got a push. We've got a pull from the inland communities of the inland flooding and the water continues to rise, being made worse by the fact that we have a full moon, king tide and Super Moon, all at the same time -- Sara.

SIDNER: It is an unbelievable combination. You would think it would be a beautiful combination and it is beautiful, which is why a lot of people think they can stay and ride it out. But we are only seeing the beginnings of this. This is the part of the storm, believe it or not, where you are and certainly where I am. Thank you so much for your reporting. We will be checking back with you as the National Hurricane Center comes up with its next forecast within the next half an hour or so. Let's get back to Phil. Thank you Derek Van Dam -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, thanks, Sara. Thanks to Derek Van Dam. Certainly going to be back and forth with you guys throughout the course of the morning. We are going to keep you updated on the latest. What we know right now and just reported based on the latest National Hurricane Center update winds for the hurricane that is currently a category 3 hurricane now at 125 miles an hour. That is just shy of the category 4 designation, which is 130 miles an hour or more. Certainly headed in that direction. That is where it has been predicted to go.

We will be keeping an eye on that. You're watching the path right now as it heads towards Florida, should be making landfall in the coming hours. And just ahead, we're going to talk to someone in the county right by Tallahassee, right at the top of Big Bend. The Public Information officer from the Sheriff's Office up there, we are going to speak to them shortly. Stay with us much more from that, much more from people on the ground and many more updates as this hurricane intensifies and approaches. Stay with us.