Tropical Storm Ian was forecast to rapidly gain strength Sunday while racing across the Caribbean towards Cuba and threatening a big hit to Florida’s west coast later in the week.
Ian was 590 miles southeast of Cuba early Sunday, cruising northwest at 12 miles an hour with 50 mph winds. Ian was forecast to reach hurricane status Sunday, then roll across western Cuba Monday night and early Tuesday and head for the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, the National Weather Service said in its 8 am update.
“Ian is expected to become a hurricane later today or tonight and reach major hurricane strength by late Monday or Monday night before it reaches western Cuba,” warned Brad Reinhart, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Major hurricanes rate Category 3 or higher on a scale of 1-5, with sustained winds of more than 110 mph. Such storms can cause “devastating” damage, many trees can be snapped or uprooted, and electricity and running water can sometimes be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes, the weather service warns.
IAN COULD BE A MAJOR HURRICANE SOON:Statewide emergency in Florida declared
Florida’s west coast could take a rare hurricane hit
AccuWeather meteorologists are warning that the storm could slam the west coast of Florida – an often missed target. The US database shows that about 160 hurricanes, excluding tropical storms, have affected Florida. Only 17 have made landfall on the west coast north of the Florida Keys.
Most storms typically travel northeast or northwest, not up the coast, AccuWeather Senior Weather Editor Jesse Ferrell said. There is no record of a hurricane ever having tracked entirely up the west coast of Florida since records began in 1944. But Ian appears like to take a “very unusual track,” he said.
Florida has had recent storms that were hurricanes but were downgraded to tropical storms before landfall, Ferrell said. Elsa in 2021 made landfall just west of Tampa and Eta in 2020 made landfall north of Tampa in Cedar Key. Neither had the firepower close to a Category 3 storm, however.
DeSantis declares a statewide state of emergency
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a pre-landfall state of emergency for all 67 counties late Saturday. The declaration came after DeSantis’ 24-county declaration late Friday afternoon.
“Floridians should remain vigilant and ensure their households are prepared for a potential impact,” DeSantis said.
Ian will then either move inland somewhere over the Southeast US, or could track near or along parts of the Eastern Seaboard late this week, The Weather Channel said, adding that it’s too soon to tell where Ian will end up, but there could be wind, flooding rain and other impacts extending into other parts of the East late next week.
Biden authorizes FEMA to help
President Joe Biden also declared an emergency for the state, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance to protect lives and property.
Biden postponed a scheduled Sept. 27 trip to Florida due to the storm.
Caymans, Cuba to see Ian’s fury first
But Ian will do damage even before reaching Cuba. Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Grand Cayman by early Monday, with tropical storm conditions expected by Sunday night, the weather service said.
Hurricane conditions are possible within the hurricane watch area in Cuba by Monday night or early Tuesday, with tropical storm conditions possible by late Monday. Tropical storm conditions are possible within the tropical storm watch area in Cuba Monday night and Tuesday.
Contributing: Christine Fernando and Claire Thornton, USA TODAY; The Associated Press