Hurricane Idalia Strikes Florida’s Big Bend: A Natural Haven Far Removed from Tourist Centers

by Gabriel Martinez
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natural beauty

The Big Bend region of Florida stands as a remaining bastion of untouched natural beauty within the state. Distinctly separate from tourist hotspots like Disney World and South Beach, this area is primarily known for activities like alligator hunting, tarpon fishing, and scallop harvesting. On Wednesday, this unspoiled region found itself at the center of a significant meteorological event.

Situated where Florida’s peninsula converges with the Panhandle, just southeast of the state capital, Tallahassee, and far north of Tampa’s metropolitan area, the Big Bend faced the full force of Hurricane Idalia. Making landfall on Wednesday near Keaton Beach, the hurricane was a formidable Category 3 storm. According to the National Hurricane Center, this marks the first time since Hurricane Easy in 1950 that a major hurricane has directly impacted the Big Bend.

The area is renowned as a refuge for those who prefer solitude and nature. As outlined by a website dedicated to the region, “The local counties posit that enjoyment extends beyond pricey restaurants, bustling theme parks, and overcrowded beaches.”

Moreover, the website highlights the more than 1 million acres (approximately 465,000 hectares) of pristine land that the counties in this region offer. These areas include forests to roam, blackwater rivers and crystal-clear, spring-fed streams to paddle, hidden camping spots, and trails for hiking and riding.

Describing Hurricane Idalia as an “unprecedented event,” the National Weather Service in Tallahassee emphasized that no major hurricanes have previously traversed the bay adjacent to the Big Bend. At the time of its landfall, Idalia had maximum sustained winds nearing 125 mph (205 kph), and it led to a predicted storm surge of up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in the low-lying marshlands. Gainesville, one of the populated areas within this region, saw the University of Florida cancel classes through Wednesday.

President Joe Biden mentioned that he has been in continuous communication with Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis—who is running for President—alongside other state and federal officials, regarding the storm’s potential ramifications. Biden expressed concern about the unpredictability of the storm surge, pledging ongoing support to the affected communities.

University at Albany atmospheric scientist Kristen Corbosiero indicated that due to the Big Bend’s unique coastline, Hurricane Idalia is likely to cause substantial storm surges. The bay’s layout and the storm’s counter-clockwise winds could cause water to accumulate significantly.

Some residents, however, chose to ignore the official evacuation advisories. Andy Bair, the proprietor of Cedar Key’s Island Hotel, plans to remain at his bed-and-breakfast, a building that dates back to before the Civil War and has never flooded during his nearly two-decade ownership. “I feel a responsibility to stay,” said Bair. “While it may be uncomfortable for a short period, we believe we will ultimately be fine.”

Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News correspondents Seth Borenstein in Washington and Daniel Kozin in Cedar Key, Florida.

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