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Hurricane Ian's first bands are lashing Florida ahead of west coast landfall as a Cat 3

Alex Harris and Michelle Marchante, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — Hurricane Ian strengthened overnight into a major storm before making landfall over western Cuba, and an eastern tilt is set to take it into Tampa Bay as a powerful Category 3 Thursday morning.

But two days out from landfall, Florida was already feeling Ian’s first gusty, rainy bands. While any future small shifts in the track make a difference for who sees the worst of the winds, the major threat for Ian is water. And the amount could be disastrous in some places.

In its 8 a.m. Tuesday forecast, the National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Ian is expected to bring historic levels of storm surge — potentially up to 10 feet above dry land in Tampa Bay — and up to 24 inches of rain for the west central Florida region. Florida’s entire west coast could see devastating storm surge and intense rain for several days as the storm slows to a crawl along the coast.

South Florida was already seeing street flooding Tuesday morning, and officials urged residents of the Keys to take shelter as tornado warnings popped up. A tropical storm watch was issued for parts of inland Miami-Dade and Broward as well as all of Palm Beach.

Mandatory and voluntary evacuations have been called for about half a million people on Florida’s west coast, schools have closed in 16 counties and all of Florida remains under a federally declared state of emergency.

Landfall in Cuba

As of the NHC’s 8 a.m. update, Hurricane Ian was about 10 miles north-northeast of Pinar Del Rio, Cuba and about 130 miles south-southwest of the Dry Tortugas. It was still a Category 3 storm with 125 mph maximum sustained winds and a wind field that stretched 115 miles from its center. It was heading north at 12 mph.

Ian’s center made landfall just southwest of La Coloma in the Pinar Del Rio Province of Cuba as a Cat 3 with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The storm is expected to spend only a few hours over western Cuba and should emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico sometime Tuesday, where conditions are ripe for it to strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds. Forecasters expect it will then be battered by vertical wind shear and drier mid-level air that will likely lead to it weakening back into a Cat 3 by the time it reaches Florida’s west coast early Thursday morning.


What Florida will feel

Ian is now forecast to be a Cat 3 hurricane by the time it’s offshore of Tampa and St. Petersburg, with a potential landfall between St. Petersburg and Sarasota early Thursday morning.

At that point, the hurricane center expects Ian’s forward speed to slow to 5 mph, prolonging the heavy rains and storm surge and overall giving the storm much more time to soak Florida as it inches inland.

Because of that major slowdown, Florida is expected to see a lot of rain this week. South Florida and the Keys could see four to six inches, while the Tampa Bay area could see more than a foot of rain, with up to two feet in some spots.

Key West and Florida’s west coast are expected to start feeling tropical storm level winds Tuesday evening, and hurricane-force winds will hit the Cape Coral to Tampa area beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Nearly the entire state — except Southeast Florida and parts of the Panhandle — could see storm surge greater than two feet above dry land. Tampa Bay is the worst, with predictions for five to 10 feet. For the east coast, this coincides with he annual highest tides of the year, king tides. It’s already accounted for in the NHC forecast, but the additional rainfall could lead to more intense flooding than usual for southeast Florida.

A hurricane warning was extended south along Florida’s west coast to Bonita Beach. A tropical storm warning was issued Tuesday morning for the Middle Florida Keys from the Channel 5 Bridge west to the Seven Mile Bridge, as well as for Florida’s west coast from the Anclote River north to the Suwannee River and for Florida’s east coast from the Jupiter Inlet to the Volusia/Brevard County line, including Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm watch was issued for Florida’s southeast coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Jupiter Inlet.


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