Hurricane Ian gained strength Monday morning and its path continued to focus on Florida’s Gulf Coast, including a threat to Central Florida, which is now under a tropical storm watch as hurricane watches were issued along the coast.
Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference from the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee that 5,000 National Guardsmen from Florida and 2,000 more from neighboring states have been activated along with five urban search and rescue teams in preparation for the storm’s impact. He warned of power outages if it makes landfall across much of the state, regardless of where it eventually makes landfall.
“Make sure you have your plan ready,” he said.
As of 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center positions downtown Ian about 100 miles west of Grand Cayman and about 240 miles southeast of Cuba’s western tip with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph moving northwest at 13 mph . The hurricane-force winds extend for 25 miles with tropical gale force winds extending for 115 miles.
“Ian is expected to remain at or near major hurricane strength as it passes along Florida’s west-central coast on Wednesday and Thursday,” said NHC hurricane specialist Brad Reinhart. “An even bigger concern is the slower forward movement predicted during this period as the upper trough passes north and east of Ian and weakens steering currents. This would likely reduce the impact of storm surge, wind and rainfall along the affected parts of extending the west coast of Florida, although the roughly parallel track to the coast still makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the most severe impacts will occur.
A hurricane watch has been issued from Englewood to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay. There is also a storm surge watch for the Florida Keys from the Card Sound Bridge in the west to Key West, the Dry Tortugas, Florida Bay, and from the Anclote River in the south to the Card Sound Bridge and Tampa Bay. There is now a tropical storm watch for the west coast of Florida from Chokoloskee south to Flamingo, for the Florida Keys from the Seven Mile Bridge east to the Channel 5 Bridge in the Middle Keys and for Lake Okeechobee.
The National Weather Service in Melbourne also issues inland tropical storm watchdogs for Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, while Polk County was also under tropical storm watch from the NWS office in Tampa.
The latest orbit predicts the center will be west of the Florida Keys Tuesday evening as a major Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, but will begin to lose steam as it approaches the Florida coast.
Wednesday night, the center is still offshore, but off the coast of Tampa Bay as a strong Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph and gusts close to 250 mph. The expected landfall could make its way north of Clearwater on Thursday afternoon, still as a Category 2 storm.
“You can’t wait until the last minute to move or make preparations because the rain will start to spread over the area as the storm approaches,” said Acting NHC Director Jamie Rhome.
Those who may be in a potential evacuation zone can go to Floridadissator.org/planprepare and click the link for “Know your zone, know your home.” Type your home address to see if it’s in one of the six evacuation zones.
“Evacuations are taking place at the local level,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of state emergency management.
“It should be emphasized once again that there is still significant uncertainty in Ian’s track, especially in the 3-5 day timeframe, and users should not focus on the details of the longer-term orbit forecast,” NHC forecasters said. in the storm discussion noting that some models make it land further south along the Florida coast, while others bring it north in the panhandle.
Regardless, the system is expected to undergo rapid intensification today, gaining strength into a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 mph this afternoon and into a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph off the Southwest coast early Wednesday morning. -Florida. .
“On the predicted track, downtown Ian is expected to pass near or west of the Cayman Islands today, and near or over western Cuba tonight and early Tuesday. Ian will then rise over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and pass west of the Florida Keys late Tuesday and approach the west coast of Florida on Wednesday,” NHC forecasters said.
Tropical storm conditions are expected in the lower Florida Keys on Tuesday, with the west coast of Florida potentially seeing them Tuesday evening. Hurricane conditions are possible on Florida’s west coast on Wednesday. Parts of the Florida peninsula may see 8 to 10 inches of rain with some spots up to 15 inches, while the Florida Keys are expected to see 4 to 6 inches.
Storm surge along some parts of the coast can reach 10 feet, the NHC said.
Significant flood impacts are possible mid-to-late week in central Florida given already saturated prior conditions, and flash and urban flooding is possible with rainfall over the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula through mid-week. prediction. “Limited flooding effects and increases in area streams and rivers are possible over northern Florida and parts of the southeast mid-to-late week.”
The likelihood of tornadoes begins late Monday and Tuesday over the Florida Keys and then into Florida’s southern and central peninsula, the NHC said.
Computer forecasting models late Friday still weren’t perfectly aligned with where the storm might go — a landfall north of the Tampa Bay area or one further north in the Florida panhandle.
Whether it hits west-central Florida or the panhandle, Hurricane Ian is set to have a significant impact on Florida weather this week.
Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall along Florida’s west coast and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of this week, and Florida residents should ensure they have their hurricane plan ready. The Hurricane Center warned. “Follow all advice from local officials and closely monitor forecast updates.”
The next NHC track change is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday.
Hurricane warnings remain in place for Grand Cayman and parts of Cuba, where significant wind and storm effects are expected over the next 24 hours.
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency and authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster response and provide assistance to protect life and property.
NASA decided Monday to roll its $4.1 billion Artemis I mission rocket back to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.
John Cangialosi, senior hurricane specialist at the Miami Hurricane Center, said it is not yet clear where Ian will hit the hardest. He said Floridians should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for potential power outages.
“Right now, the right message for those living in Florida is that you need to look at forecasts and prepare and prepare for potential impacts from this tropical system,” he said.
David Sharp, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said it is now time for Central Florida residents to pay attention to Ian’s forecast.
“Stay on the forecasts,” Sharp said. “Small changes in the forecast can make a big difference by the time it gets to us on day four or five.”
“You always want to at least plan for the most likely scenario and prepare for a reasonable worst-case scenario, meaning how bad it can get,” Sharp said. “The current forecast is what we call the most likely scenario, so we’re concerned about flooding rain, with tropical storm winds and hurricane gusts and tornadoes.”
As for when the Ian could have the biggest impact on Central Florida, Sharp pointed out on Wednesday.
“The most likely time is Wednesday afternoon, around that time in the evening, so you definitely want to have things done by Wednesday morning, Wednesday afternoon at the latest,” Sharp said. “Before we see the wind, we’re going to see rain…so you don’t want to be running around if the roads could be flooded or there are tornado warnings.”
“The hazards we’re most concerned about this time around are flooding rain … also, there’s a concern right now for tropical storm winds with hurricane gusts,” Sharp said.
Schools throughout Central Florida monitored Ian’s progress.
On Monday, Lake County Public Schools announced that the facilities would be closed on both Wednesday and Thursday. To find out which school districts are closing schools, visit FLDOE.org/storminfo.
Bethune-Cookman University, a private, historically black university in Daytona Beach, announced a mandatory campus evacuation that began at noon Monday with no return date set yet, and students in the residents’ halls were encouraged to move as quickly as possible. to evacuate as Sunday.
At B-CU, classes will only be moved online on Tuesdays, according to a letter from the Office of Academic Affairs on Saturday.
At the University of Central Florida, the campus will remain open with a status update coming Monday to decide the university’s activities for the coming week.
Rollin College in Winter Park, announces campus will close at 5 p.m. Wednesday; with residential halls closing at 4pm on Wednesday and all remaining closed on Thursday and Friday for damage assessment.
The University of South Florida at Tampa is keeping campus activities open and classes as scheduled pending an update on Sunday evening, according to the official university website.
Florida State University and the University of Florida are continuing to monitor the storm before announcing changes to campus activities or classes, according to their official social media pages.
Both universities ask their students to plan and prepare and make sure they are aware of their university’s emergency alert system.
Elsewhere in the tropics, forecasters have increased the likelihood of a low-pressure area with rain and thunderstorms several hundred kilometers west of the Cape Verde islands.
A tropical depression is likely to form in the coming days before high-level winds become less favorable towards the end of the week.
The NHC gives a 70% chance of developing into the next tropical depression in the next two to five days.
Staff writer Jeffrey Schweers and The Associated Press contributed to this report.