The now category 2 Hurricane Ian, sustaining winds of 100 mph, is powering up from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and growing stronger by the hour. The National Hurricane Center in Miami, FL is currently predicting landfall in the Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg area late Wednesday or early Thursday as a category 4 hurricane with winds topping 144 mph. Most of Florida’s west coast from Fort Myers to the panhandle will see heavy rain, flooding and strong winds. Tampa has not had a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921.
A storm surge of up to 10 feet of ocean water and 10 inches of rain was predicted across the Tampa Bay area, with as much as 15 inches in isolated areas. That’s enough water to inundate coastal communities.
As many as 300,000 people may be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone. Some of those evacuations were beginning Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other locations opening as shelters.
National Hurricane Center Statement
Ian continues to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea. The last report from the Air Force Hurricane Hunters around 1630 UTC found 700-mb flight-level winds of 79 kt. The inner core appears better organized, and the eyewall structure has greatly improved in radar imagery from the Cayman Islands. The 18 UTC satellite classifications from SAB and TAFB were a consensus T4.5/77 kt, but the continued improvement in satellite structure warrants raising the initial intensity to 85 kt for this advisory.
Atmospheric and oceanic conditions remain very favorable for additional intensification during the next 24 h or so, as Ian moves over the very warm waters of the northwestern Caribbean Sea and the southeastern Gulf of Mexico while the shear remains quite low. The NHC intensity forecast calls for Ian to become a major hurricane before it reaches western Cuba early Tuesday. It is then forecast to reach its peak intensity over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico in 36 h. After that, southwesterly shear in association with a deep-layer trough over the eastern U.S. is forecast to significantly increase over the hurricane on Wednesday and Thursday, which will likely disrupt the vertical structure and import drier air into its circulation. Despite these less favorable conditions, Ian is still forecast to remain at or near major hurricane strength as it passes near the west-central coast of Florida on Wednesday and Thursday. The NHC intensity forecast agrees well with the latest IVCN and HCCA aids.
Ian has made an expected turn toward the north-northwest, and its initial motion is 330/11 kt. The hurricane will move north northwestward to northward over the next day or so as it is steered by a mid-level ridge to the east. A turn to the north-northeast with a decrease in forward speed is forecast on Wednesday and Thursday as the center of Ian moves near the west coast of Florida. The slower forward motion is likely to prolong the storm surge, wind, and rainfall impacts, especially along the west coast of Florida. The latest track guidance has come into better agreement on this scenario, although it is noted that small deviations to the shore-parallel track could have large implications on the impacts at particular locations along the west coast of Florida. The NHC track forecast has again been adjusted slightly eastward at 48-72 h, which follows the latest trends in the global model guidance and lies near but just west of the multi-model consensus aids.
Based on the latest forecast and timing of expected impacts, Hurricane and Storm Surge Warnings have been issued along the west coast of Florida.