As Tropical Storm Ian heads into Florida — potentially strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane before hitting the state later this week — residents brace for what could be the Sunshine State’s first major hurricane in four years. .
Ian, which developed Friday in the central Caribbean Sea, is expected to rapidly intensify Sunday and become a Category 3 hurricane before reaching western Cuba early Tuesday. Ian is then expected to make landfall in the United States, according to the National Weather Service in Miami.
Ian will likely remain a major hurricane as it moves through the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but “uncertainty in the long-term track and intensity forecast is higher than usual,” National Hurricane Center said. Forecast patterns on Saturday varied on where Ian would hit Florida as well as whether the touchdown would be Thursday or Friday.
The forecast also shifted the storm’s track further west, making the begging of Florida and much of the state’s west coast a potential risk. Dangerous storm surges, hurricane-force winds and heavy rain will likely follow the storm’s path.
Across Florida, local officials are urging residents to prepare for flash flooding and damaging winds.
“It’s the calm before the storm,” Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann told CNN on Saturday. “We feel that kind of adrenaline before a storm and the path can change at any time, but we want our citizens to be ready.”
Ian is about 395 miles southeast of Grand Cayman and is moving west at 13 mph (20 km/h), according to the hurricane center Saturday evening, with maximum sustained winds reaching 50 mph (85 km /h).
A hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman, and forecasters are growing confident that residents of western Cuba will face “life-threatening” storm surge and hurricane-force winds on Monday. , the hurricane center said. Hurricane and tropical storm watches have been issued for parts of western Cuba.
As the storm approaches Florida, authorities are distributing sandbags and asking Floridians to prepare their property to reduce the risk of hurricane damage and to store buy supplies like radios, water, canned food and medicine. Residents should also pack important documents and know their evacuation routes.
On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expanded an emergency order to include all counties in the state, saying the conditions should “constitute a major disaster”. President Joe Biden has declared an emergency for Florida and ordered federal aid to supplement response efforts.
Concerns over Ian’s arrival also delayed the third launch attempt of the Artemis I rocket scheduled for Tuesday.
Ian would be the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Michael in 2018, a devastating Category 5 storm when it collided with the Florida panhandle. Michael also underwent rapid intensification before making landfall.
Storm surge – when the force of a hurricane or storm pushes ocean water onto the shores – can be one of the greatest threats to life and property from a hurricane.
It’s the main reason Miami-Dade County residents are urged to evacuate before a hurricane, county officials say.
“We are outside the cone of uncertainty. We can’t relax,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told CNN on Saturday. “We know there is always a possibility that this will change. The storm continued to move west. This is the time when everyone should make sure they have a plan.
Cava urged residents to make sure they have enough food and water and to check their storm surge planning zone.
“We are hopeful that even with a major rain event we will be able to handle it,” Cava said. ” We are waiting. We have additional pumps and have worked with the South Florida Water Management District to lower the level of the channels.
Miami-Dade County is preparing its “expanded shelter system,” including for those fleeing the Florida Keys if evacuations are ordered there.
In Naples, Heitmann said she is already seeing lines at gas stations as residents brace for the potential hurricane.
“They take it seriously, and I encourage those who aren’t to always take a storm seriously, because you can never estimate where that storm might turn. And we have to be prepared and if it doesn’t come straight for us, there could be strong winds,” Heitmann said.
In Sarasota, authorities are checking generators, planning with local police, trying to estimate the number of possible floods and warning residents to prepare, Mayor Erik Arroyo told CNN.
“Don’t underestimate the dangers that come with gusts, storm surges, flooding, especially since we’re a coastal city. So we’re telling them to go now, get ready early,” Arroyo said.