ORLANDO, Fla. — Amidst the glitz of Disney World and the allure of South Beach, Florida’s Big Bend remains an untouched haven for nature enthusiasts. A land of alligators, tarpon, and scallops, this region escaped the tourist frenzy. However, the tranquil serenity of the Big Bend was shattered as Hurricane Idalia, a formidable Category 3 hurricane, took direct aim at this pristine wilderness.
Situated where Florida’s peninsula transitions into the Panhandle, the Big Bend rests southeast of Tallahassee and well north of Tampa. On Wednesday, Hurricane Idalia roared ashore near Keaton Beach, plunging the lightly populated area into its fiercest encounter with a major storm since Hurricane Easy in 1950.
Renowned as an escape from urbanity, Florida’s Nature Coast celebrates the beauty of unspoiled landscapes. “More than expensive restaurants, theme parks, and crowded beaches,” their website asserts, “we have what you’re looking for.” Forests, rivers, springs, campsites, and trails define this territory spanning over a million acres.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee declared Idalia’s impact an “unprecedented event.” The bay abutting the Big Bend, previously untouched by a major hurricane, now faced the might of the storm. Idalia’s landfall brought winds of up to 125 mph and the ominous threat of a storm surge reaching 15 feet. As a result, Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, suspended classes.
President Joe Biden maintained close contact with Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, alongside federal and state officials, closely monitoring the storm’s trajectory. Biden assured, “We’re there as long as it takes and make sure they have everything they need.”
The Big Bend’s unique coastline shape, however, exacerbates the danger. Kristen Corbosiero, an atmospheric scientist from the University at Albany, explained, “The water can get piled up in that bay. And then the winds of the storm come around, they go around counter-clockwise, that’s going the same direction, the same shape of the bay so that water can just get pushed in there.”
Despite evacuation warnings, some residents chose to remain in the face of Idalia’s fury. Andy Bair, custodian of Cedar Key’s historic Island Hotel, intended to stay and protect his bed-and-breakfast, standing since before the Civil War. Bair’s resolve stems from past resilience; his establishment weathered Hurricane Hermine’s onslaught in 2016 without succumbing to flooding.
Bair expressed his commitment, saying, “We’ve proven time and again that we’re not going to wash away. We may be a little uncomfortable for a couple of days, but we’ll be OK eventually.”
As Hurricane Idalia underscores the fierce unpredictability of nature, the Big Bend’s residents stand united in their determination to safeguard their cherished wilderness.