Tropical Storm Idalia continues to intensify and is forecast to become a major Category 3 or 4 hurricane before making landfall in Florida. This offers an update you on the system’s status, its cone of uncertainty, when it’ll likely be felt in Central Florida, Walt Disney World’s policies, what to do, and more. (Updated August 28, 2023.)
The key thing to know is that it’s currently business as usual at Walt Disney World. The company has not announced any closures, cancellations, or operational impacts whatsoever due to Tropical Storm Idalia. If you’re simply worried about what could be closing or changing at the resorts, water parks, restaurants, etc., the answer is nothing. So far.
With that said, Disney always monitors the weather and will prioritize guest and Cast Member safety above all else. It’s premature for any announcements about Walt Disney World operations. We’d expect that to happen on Tuesday, and only if it becomes clear that Idalia will pose an actual threat–beyond just wet weather and wind–to Walt Disney World.
As of the latest update on August 28, 2023 from the National Hurricane Center, the system has sustained winds of 65 mph with higher gusts and was located about 80 miles south-southwest of the western tip of Cuba, heading north at 8 mph. Its tropical-storm-force winds extend out 105 miles from its center.
Tropical Storm Idalia is forecast to become a hurricane later today and a dangerous major hurricane over northeastern Gulf of Mexico by early Wednesday. There is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, flooding from heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds along portions of the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle beginning as early as Tuesday.
Forecast have Idalia increasing in strength throughout the day, with 115 mph sustained winds and gusts of up to 140 mph overnight. The projected path of Idalia has a cone of uncertainty spread from Tampa to Tallahassee. The NHC intensity forecast again calls for Idalia to reach major hurricane strength before landfall along the Gulf Coast of Florida.
The National Hurricane Center indicates that there is a danger of life-threatening storm surge inundation along portions of the Florida Gulf Coast where a Storm Surge Warning is in effect, including Tampa Bay and the Big Bend region of Florida. Inundation of 7 to 11 feet above ground level is expected somewhere between Chassahowitzka and Aucilla River. Floridians in these areas should follow any advice given by local officials.
A Hurricane Warning has been issued for areas along the Florida Gulf Coast, with the potential for destructive winds where the core of Idalia moves onshore. Strong winds will also spread inland across portions of northern Florida near the track of the center of Idalia.
Areas of flash and urban flooding, some of which may be locally significant, are expected across portions of the west coast of Florida, the Florida Panhandle, and southern Georgia Tuesday into Wednesday, spreading into portions of the eastern Carolinas Wednesday into Thursday.
Unlike Hurricane Ian, this storm is expected to move quickly over Florida. Rainfall totals are still expected to be high, with 4-8 inches across much of the state, and some areas with as much as 12 inches across ports of Florida’s West Coast and Panhandle.
The National Weather Service in Melbourne is forecasting that Central Florida will feel Tropical Storm Idalia’s impacts on late Tuesday and into Wednesday. The system will likely make landfall on Wednesday morning on the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane. For the Orlando area, that’ll likely mean heavy rain and tropical storm force wind gusts of 35 to 45 miles per hour. There’s also the possibility of tornadoes forming in Central Florida as the system moves across the state.
Tropical Storm Idalia is expected to strengthen into at least a Category 3 hurricane before making landfall in Florida. There’s also a “notable risk of rapid intensification” as the storm moves through the extremely warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the NHC has warned. Rapid intensification occurs when the maximum sustained winds of a storm increase by 35 mph or more in a 24-hour period.
To that point, the National Hurricane Center stresses that there is still “significant uncertainty” with Tropical Storm Idalia. Although
the track forecast has been quite consistent, “it cannot be emphasized enough that only a small deviation in the track could cause a
significant change in Idalia’s landfall location in Florida due to the paralleling track to the west coast of the state,” according to NHC.
People in Florida should not focus on the details of the track, as small deviations could dramatically change the scope and scale of the storm’s impact in Central Florida. Moreover, the NHC indicates that strong winds, heavy rains, and dangerous storm surges will extend well away from the center of Tropical Storm Idalia.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference from the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. The intensifying of Idalia resulted in the governor expanding his earlier state of emergency declaration to 46 counties, up from 33. In Central Florida, the state of emergency now includes Seminole, Lake and Volusia counties–but not Osceola or Orange Counties, which Walt Disney World calls home.
Florida counties under the state of emergency order include: Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Nassau, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia, and Wakulla counties.
At a briefing in Tallahassee, DeSantis urged all Floridians to prepare for Idalia to be dangerous. “We’ve got to stop focusing on the cone of uncertainty and look at all the areas that could be affected,” DeSantis said. The governor further explained how all it would take is “one wobble one way or another” and the major impacts of the storm could change between Tallahassee and Tampa, drawing a comparison to how forecasts for Hurricane Ian shifted southward shortly before the storm made landfall last year, devastating the Gulf Coast. “You still have time today…so do what you’ve gotta do to prepare.”
“This is going to be a major hurricane. This is going to be a powerful hurricane…so buckle up for this one,” DeSantis warned. The governor also submitted a request for aid to the White House. This was approved by President Biden, who granted an emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance in responding to the storm.
During the briefing DeSantis also elaborated on actions the state is taking, such as mobilizing the National Guard. He reiterated the importance of being vigilant, shared resources for reporting scams and price gouging, and implored Floridians to heed the warnings of local officials, as storm tracking is always fluid.
DeSantis also urged Floridians to have seven days worth of supplies and to stay tuned to local media for the latest forecast updates, but not “panic buy.” He also warned of power losses, but said there tens of thousands of worker standing by at the major utility companies, preparing to restore power in the days after the storms pass.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie expects Tropical Storm Idalia to strengthen beyond the current NHC forecast. “I’m anticipating it is going to be a Category 4 Hurricane and we are preparing as such,” Guthrie said. He urged Floridians to prepare for the impacts of a major hurricane, and not to take the threat lightly.
“People need to expect, even though they are well off outside of the cone, that we are going to have power outages, we are going to have trees down on power lines,” Guthrie said. “You need to be prepared for that.” Guthrie added that his biggest concern is procrastination, and Floridians not preparing until Idalia officially reaches major hurricane status or failing to heed evacuation orders.
As always, we’re not attempting to be alarmists. Anyone who has experienced storm season in Florida knows these forecasts can–and usually do–change. In the past few years, hurricanes originally forecast to miss Florida entirely have swerved towards the state and others with a high probability of wreaking havoc have weakened at the last minute.
We have witnessed this ourselves with Hurricanes Irma, Dorian, and Isaias. We can now say the same about our firsthand experience with Hurricane Hilary in California. (Oddly enough, that necessitated way more storm prep for us than we ever did while living in Florida!) Hopefully, Tropical Storm Idalia is like those rather than Hurricane Ian, and will drift west and have minimal impact on Central Florida as a result.
Nevertheless, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and be prepared rather than not taking a major storm system seriously. Regardless of how models change in the next couple of days, Tropical Storm Idalia will bring heavier than normal precipitation and wind to Central Florida, meaning that–at best–it’s going to an even rainier week at Walt Disney World.
You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on this system if you’re currently planning to be in the parks this coming week. At minimum, come prepared for heavy rain, as Walt Disney World is now in the heart of tropical storm season!
Aside from the aforementioned wet and windy weather, the operational impact on Walt Disney World is still unknown. Again, Walt Disney World has not issued any closures or warnings.
UPDATE: DisneyWorld.com added the below banner to the top of the website on August 28, 2023 at 3 pm Eastern. This will be updated throughout the next couple of days with info about how the parks & resorts will or will not be impacted, and whether the parks are operating normally or not.
Our guess/hope is that Tropical Storm Idalia won’t necessitate a closure of the Walt Disney World theme parks. It’s approaching the west coast, rather than the east coast, of Florida. Although it’s intensifying, it doesn’t have the same forecast strength as other storms from the last few years, and the current forecasts call for the worst impacts missing Orlando.
That probably means it’ll be mostly a matter of heavy rain and wind at Walt Disney World. But, and this probably goes without saying, you should get severe weather preparedness advice from sources other than a fan blog about Disney. As it concerns our actual area of expertise, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a relocation of guests from Fort Wilderness. (That’s usually the very first thing to happen.) But we wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the extent of the Tropical Storm Idalia operational impact.
Since Walt Disney World has not yet issued any updates, its normal hurricane policy is in place. That takes effect when a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area or for the guest’s place of residence within 7 days before the scheduled arrival date of the storm. Although that has not happened yet, it’s incredibly common for Walt Disney World to accommodate guests and allow cancellations or changes without penalty even in the current circumstances.
This is at the discretion of phone representative with whom you speak, and outcomes can differ given the circumstances. As always, be kind to Cast Members, booking agents, travel agents, or anyone whose assistance you need. Remember, they do not control the weather. (Which seems like a silly thing to type, but you’d be surprised how many people seem to think that.) If the concept of kindness for its own sake is too much to grasp, just remember that (selfishly!) you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
We’ll keep you posted with updates from the National Hurricane Center and operational updates from Walt Disney World whenever one is released. If you’re planning a visit, you can also consult our Tips for Hurricane & Storm Season at Walt Disney World for generalized advice on packing, avoiding the worst of the wet weather, and even riding out a hurricane. We hope and doubt it’ll come to that with Tropical Storm Idalia!
Are you concerned that Tropical Storm Idalia will impact Walt Disney World? Are you currently in Central Florida? Have you visited during past tropical storms or hurricanes? Any additional info, thoughts, or first-hand experiences to share about riding out a hurricane at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!