Idalia strengthens to tropical storm, heads toward southeast. Here’s Columbia’s forecast

Tropical Storm Idalia has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, and is forecast to make landfall in the southeastern U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.

While there is uncertainty about the storm’s track, it is currently expected to affect the Columbia area this week, the National Hurricane Center forecast shows.

The National Hurricane Center said Idalia (ee-DAL-ya) is forecast to reach hurricane-level strength in the next day or two, when it will “jump up in speed,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Steve LaVoie told The State Sunday. But it will return to a Tropical Storm when it moves through the Midlands on Wednesday and Thursday, according to LaVoie.

Tropical Storm Idalia is forecast to hit the southeast.
Tropical Storm Idalia is forecast to hit the southeast.

The current forecast shows Idalia reaching the Columbia area on Wednesday afternoon and eventually moving out by the second half of Thursday, LaVoie said.

Should Idalia be at tropical storm levels when it hits, it will move through with winds as fast as 39 mph, according to LaVoie.

It’s possible that Idalia’s track could shift further east, toward the South Carolina coast, which would reduce the strength of the winds in Columbia, LaVoie said. But even if the storm’s track moves, the Midlands could be affected by tropical storm-level wind gusts and isolated tornadoes, according to LaVoie.

Powerful winds and tornadoes could cause considerable damage to trees and branches, in addition to mobile homes, roofs and outbuildings. Vehicles would also be under siege in the case of a tornado.

Damage to trees and branches creates the possibility of downed power lines and outages.

Idalia is moving very slowly on its current track, but the forecast will become clearer by Monday afternoon as it moves closer to the Florida coast, LaVoie said.

“The forecast track and strength of Tropical Storm Idalia remains uncertain as the system is still organizing and moving slowly,” the National Weather Service said. “Hurricane Hunters will be investigating the system through the day providing additional data.”

A look at precipitation forecast.
A look at precipitation forecast.

Another hazard posed by Idalia are heavy rains, according to the National Weather Service. LaVoie said the storm could cause 1-3 inches of precipitation in Columbia.

That’s significant, because several localized storms are forecast in the Midlands on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, which is expected to amount in 1-3 inches of rainfall, according to LaVoie. Localized rainfall amounts could be higher.

Every day through Wednesday has no less than a 60% chance of rain, according to the forecast.

All of that precipitation raises the threat of flooding, LaVoie said.

Potential flash flooding is the greatest threat, especially in low-lying and other flood-prone locations, according to the National Weather Service. But as Idalia dumps more rain on the Columbia area, river flooding becomes another possible hazard, LaVoie said.

Residents in flood-prone areas should have a plan in place in case of flooding, LaVoie warned.

After a recent hot spell in Columbia, all of the windy and rainy weather is expected to cause temperatures to drop — slightly.

The forecast calls for temperatures to approach highs around 90 degrees on Monday and Tuesday before dropping to the low 80s on Wednesday as Idalia approaches.

As of Sunday no warnings, watches, or advisories were issued for the Columbia area by the National Weather Service. That could change as the storm moves closer.

The forecast is expected to become clearer in the next day or two as the storm moves closer to the U.S., and potentially South Carolina.

Idalia would be the first hurricane or tropical storm to affect the Columbia area in 2023, according to LaVoie. Last year, the remnants of Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole doused the Midlands in October and November — respectively.