Ian looms over Florida Gulf Coast

Hurricane Ian, now a Cat3 storm, made landfall in Cuba about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday just southwest of La Coloma in the western province of Pinar del Río with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. The storm forced mass evacuations, cutting power to hundreds of thousands of people and swamping fishing villages.

Residents of Florida’s Gulf Coast on Tuesday boarded up their homes, packed up their vehicles and are moving for higher ground as Hurricane Ian draws near. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has opened up all toll roads in the state for the growing number of evacuees to improve traffic flow and eliminate any delay in getting people to safety.

Ian has adjusted track as of Tuesday evening and is now directed South of Tampa Bay toward Sarasota. Slight track shifts to the south and east continue to reduce the level of predicted storm surge in Tampa Bay and along nearby coastal counties, but those numbers now increase for areas from Longboat Key to Bonita Springs. Areas of Sarasota County may now see higher levels of storm surge along the coast if the current track plays out. Still, Ian can head in any direction within the forecast cone. Ian is still expected to make landfall as a Cat3 or Cat4 storm Wednesday afternoon/evening. 

Most of Florida’s west coast airports have closed or are closing this evening through Thursday. Theme parks have followed suit with Disney World and Universal Florida announcing today that they will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the closest theme park to the hurricane’s projected landfall, closed early Tuesday, extending its previously announced two-day shutdown.

National Weather Service Hurricane Ian Discussion Number 19

The pressure on the last Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft fix fell to about 952 mb, indicating that Ian is restrengthening over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. The eye of Ian remains well-defined on visible imagery, although radar data from Key West suggest that an eyewall replacement could be in the initial stages. The initial wind speed is set to 105 kt, matching a blend of earlier SFMR and flight-level wind data. The plane data also showed that the area of hurricane-force winds is growing on the east side of the cyclone.

Ian is moving east-of-due-north, or 010/9-kt, with occasional wobbles to the north-northeast. A track toward the north-northeast is expected for the next couple of days while it moves between a ridge over the Bahamas and a trough over the western Gulf of Mexico. There has been some model convergence this afternoon showing Ian remaining stronger and vertically deeper through landfall. This solution results in a faster track, again adjusted to the southeast, and the new forecast is moved in that direction. This new NHC track is close to the corrected model consensus and between the quicker ECMWF and slower GFS models. It should be emphasized that this track remains uncertain, with a typical spread in the steering features leading to big speed and track differences down the line, not to mention the oblique angle of approach to Florida. In a few days, more of the guidance is showing Ian interacting with a shortwave trough over the southeastern United States, causing the system to move back over the northwestern Atlantic in the longer range, before turning northwestward back over land. The day 3-5 track forecast is also shifted eastward, although significant re-strengthening is not expected at long range.

The outflow pattern of the hurricane is beginning to be impinged upon in the southwestern quadrant, a sign that upper-level southwesterly flow is starting to affect the outer circulation. While the shear should increase up through landfall, it is just too close-to-call whether it starts to weaken Ian or not, or whether the larger system is able to resist the shear. Additionally, an eyewall replacement cycle could be in its initial phases, although predicting these structural changes is extremely difficult. The new forecast is near the last one, a little higher than the consensus. I should note that whether Ian comes ashore as category 4 hurricane or a large category 3 after an eyewall cycle, avoiding a large and destructive hurricane for Florida seems very unlikely, and residents should heed the advice of local emergency management officials.

The new forecast necessitates a Hurricane Warning for portions of extreme southwestern Florida, and a Tropical Storm Warning for the rest of southeastern Florida that wasn’t previously under a warning. Users are reminded to not focus on the exact track as some additional adjustments to the track are possible. Significant wind, storm surge, and rainfall hazards will extend far from the center.

National Hurricane Center

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