Tropical Storm Ian is expected to become a hurricane today as it begins its “significant strengthening,” but the National Hurricane Center does not believe the storm will make landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast, saying there is “significant uncertainty” over the long-range. forecast.
In an 11 a.m. update Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Ian still had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. The storm was located about 300 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and 570 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba, and was moving west-northwest at 14 mph. Tropical-storm winds extend 60 miles from Ion’s center.
A hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman and parts of Cuba.
The hurricane center said it had “relatively high confidence” in its short-term forecast, which calls for Ian to pass southwest of Jamaica and gradually turn northwestward late Sunday, then move west of the Cayman Islands on Monday and near or over western Cuba early Tuesday.
“Ian is expected to become a hurricane tonight or early Tuesday, and is forecast to reach major hurricane strength before reaching western Cuba,” NHC.
The storm is expected to have sustained winds of 120 mph in 36 hours and 130 mph in 60 hours.
Ian’s forecast for three to five days from now is that it’s complicated. Computer forecast models agree that Ion will hit Florida, but disagree on where. “There are still significant differences in the exact track of the storm, especially after 72 hours,” the NHC warned.
Two models, UKMET and ECMWF, show the storm tracking east and making landfall in west-central Florida. Two other models, the GFS and HWRF, show the storm moving west and taking Ian into the central or western Florida Panhandle. The NHC said there was a difference of 220-250 miles between the model tracks in the previous Sunday’s Day 4 and Day 5 forecast for Ion.
The Hurricane Center’s current forecast track for the storm essentially splits the difference between the different model suites with the NHC’s best guess.
“However, there is still significant uncertainty in Ion’s long-range path forecast, and this part of the forecast will require future adjustments,” the NHC said.
Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, the hurricane center noted the risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rain along Florida’s West Coast and Florida Panhandle by midweek.
“Residents of Florida should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place, follow any advice from local officials, and closely monitor forecast updates,” the hurricane center said.
John Congialosi, a senior hurricane expert at the Miami-based Hurricane Center, said it was still unclear where Ian would hit hardest. Floridians should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for possible power outages, he said.
“The right message for Florida residents at this point is that you need to be prepared by looking at the forecasts and preparing yourself for the potential impact from this tropical system,” he said.
Throughout Central Florida, Residents spent part of the weekend preparing for Ian’s possible arrival.
A Target store near Millenia had very few gallons of water left on Saturday, with signs on the shelves saying only four cases or bottles were purchased per customer.
“This is the third store I’ve visited today,” said Maritza Osorio, who left Target for fourth place. “If not, try again tomorrow.”
A Home Depot on the same plaza saw heavy traffic, with many carrying water in their carts and others buying pieces of plywood to use as shutters, among other things.
While it’s still unclear if Ian will hit Central Florida, or how hard he’ll hit it, guys like Gary Wilson aren’t taking any chances. He had his hurricane kit ready within weeks of the start of the season and was at Home Depot for final preparations.
“If something happens, I’m ready,” Wilson said.
On Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for all of the Sunshine State — expanding an order he issued Friday to declare a state of emergency in two dozen counties. DeSantis also mobilized the National Guard to help with storm preparation and recovery.
“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to monitor the potential impacts of this storm.”
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to help coordinate disaster relief efforts and protect lives and property.
The president postponed a planned September 27 trip to Orlando because of the storm.
Sentinel staff and Cristobal Reyes of The Associated Press contributed to this report