Evacuations expand in Florida as Hurricane Ian makes landfall over Cuba

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Hurricane Ian made landfall early Tuesday as a Category 3 storm, bringing “significant wind and storm surge effects” as it strengthened en route to Florida, forecasters said.

Residents of coastal communities around the Tampa Bay region have been ordered to evacuate and urged to travel even short distances to avoid the worst of the storm.

Ian is expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico in the late morning, passing west of the Florida Keys later Tuesday and heading toward Florida’s west coast as a major hurricane by Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said in its most recent advisory.

The storm intensified overnight, becoming a Category 3 hurricane, with maximum winds estimated to be over 115 mph at its core before making landfall near La Coloma in Cuba’s Pinar Del Rio province. The National Hurricane Center warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force, flash flooding and mudslides were expected in western Cuba overnight through Tuesday, and urged residents to act quickly to evacuate and protect properties.

By Tuesday at 8 a.m., Ian had gained even more strength, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph as it moved north at 19 mph, about 130 miles southwest of Dry Tortugas National Park near the Florida Keys.

According to researchers who study hurricanes and evacuations, the challenge of recording Ian’s trail has meant difficult decisions for residents to evacuate or stay.

“The public demands precision in hurricane predictions that we can give them in most storms,” ​​said Jason Senkbeil, a professor in the department of geography at the University of Alabama. But with Ian, he said, “it’s frustrating.”

For example, on Monday, as jurisdictions in the Tampa Bay region began issuing evacuation orders, it was clear that Ian would eventually arrive as a strong storm, but plausible variations in the predicted trajectory could mean the difference between relatively short hurricane-force winds and “a strong storm.” huge rain and waves,” said Senkbeil.

“I just don’t know if people can pick up on those differences,” he said.

Jennifer Collins, a professor of geosciences at the University of South Florida who lives in the Tampa area, said her neighbors have peppered her with questions about thunder threats and whether she should evacuate. Although they were not in an evacuation zone, there are still risks that may be too great for some to be left behind, she explained.

“They still focus on the center of the cone and not the edges of the cone,” Collins said. “You can get significant effects outside the cone. It frustrates me a little bit that they do that. At some stages they’ve said, ‘Oh, we’re fine,’ and I say, ‘I don’t know why you think we’re in order; were not. We should prepare.”

Melissa Thomas, 31, was studying meteorology at Florida State University when Hurricane Michael hit in 2018. Her parents chose to stay in their house and as she watched the storm approach, I thought, ‘Do I see my parents dying on the radar? ?’ I will never forget that thought.”

Thomas worked for the camera as a meteorologist before deciding to become a teacher — now at a Bay County high school. She now offers predictions via social media, and as Ian progressed this week, she noticed that some Panhandle residents who lived through that previous storm became anxious and fearful of enduring another one.

“The mere fact that we’re even talking about possible landings really raises people’s awareness of their own stress of being in the cone of uncertainty,” Thomas said.

Even if Ian lands elsewhere, she added, “it’s still very scary to even talk about on the edge of a storm like this.”

Ian threatens severe flooding and damaging winds to Florida’s Gulf Coast, which looks set to land somewhere between Naples and the Big Bend area of ​​the west coast between Wednesday and Thursday. It is forecast to become a Category 4 storm by the end of Tuesday with wind speeds of 140 mph, making it the strongest September hurricane in the Gulf since Rita in 2005. The storm is then expected to weaken slightly as it moves. Florida is approaching and hitting land as a Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.

On Monday evening, hurricane warnings were issued in the Tampa Bay region, along with storm surge warnings, and on Tuesday the National Hurricane Center expanded it south to Bonita Springs, south of Fort Myers and Cape Coral. That’s because weather forecasting models increasingly suggested that Ian will make landfall in the southern zone of previous forecasts, close to Tampa Bay or even just south of it.

The hurricane’s biggest threat may be storm surge — a rise in ocean water above normally dry land caused by low air pressure and wind. The National Hurricane Center predicts Ian could send as much as 5 to 10 feet of storm surge to the Florida coast, a hazard that can be deadly and destructive. The gentle slope of the ocean floor along the Florida coast means that even a minor hurricane or tropical storm can cause severe coastal flooding.

The storm’s expected slow movement as it approaches Florida also likely means flooding rains, with 10 to 20 inches or more possible in some areas.

Ian arrives as part of a wave of late-season tropical activity in the Atlantic basin, where no named tropical cyclones formed in August for the first time in 25 years. While meteorologists had been monitoring as many as five tropical systems in recent days, including a nascent Ian, the storm is now one of two being monitored. The other, several hundred miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, could soon become Tropical Storm Julia.

Brittany Shammas in Key West, Florida, Annabelle Timsit and Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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