Hurricane Ian approached Category 5 status with sustained winds of 155 mph as it barreled toward Florida’s southwest coast this morning expected to trudge its way up toward Orlando tonight.
At 10 a.m., the National Hurricane Center said the center of Ian was located about 60 miles west of Naples and 65 miles southwest of Punta Gorda and 180 miles south-southwest of Orlando moving north-northeast at 10 mph.
Storm surge from Englewood to Bonita Beach including Charlotte Harbor is forecast to hit from 12-18 feet. Surge up to 10 feet is expected north to Longboat Key near Sarasota and up to 12 feet south past Naples to the Everglades.
“Clearly, this is a very powerful major hurricane that’s going to have major impacts, both on impact in southwest Florida, but then as it continues to work through the state,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said from the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee this morning. “It is going to have major, major impacts in terms of wind, in terms of rain, in terms of flooding, so this is going to be a nasty, nasty day — two days.”
Power outages were beginning to pile up across the state. As of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, nearly 200,000 people in the state were without power, mostly in Collier, Miami-Dade, Charlotte, Lee, Sarasota, Manatee, Broward and Palm Beach counties according to poweroutage.us.
DeSantis later appeared with power company linemen awaiting deployment during a press conference in Lake City noting the storm was likely to bring tragic results.
Hurricane Ian Live Updates: A flood watch continues for all of east central Florida through late Thursday night, according to a Wednesday morning update from National Weather Service Melbourne mete…
“So just understand the impact of the storm is going to be enormous,” he said. “There’s obviously some people who are in harm’s way by choice having hunkered down in their areas and we’re praying for them. Obviously there’s going to be there’s going to be rescue efforts made as soon as it’s safe to do so. … It’s going to be going to be a tragic event in many ways. But it’s something that we’re going to dig in on. We’re going to be there. We’re going to stand with the people who are most affected.”
Ian’s intensity increased to a strong Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained wind of 155 mph and the NHC said conditions were rapidly deteriorating along Florida’s Gulf Coast with hurricane-force winds extending out 40 miles and tropical-storm-force winds out 175 miles.
“Tropical-storm-force winds already beginning to affect coast,” the NHC stated. “Conditions will rapidly deteriorate and catastrophic wind damage is expected.”
Gusts of 190 mph are predicted when it makes landfall around 2 p.m., the updated NHC forecast said.
“We are at the point now these aren’t models,” DeSantis said. “This is what the storm is actually doing.”
Hurricane Ian cone of uncertainty as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (National Hurricane Center)
Much of Central Florida is now also under a tornado watch until 5 p.m. as outer bands of Ian have already produced several damaging twisters and multiple tornado warnings as they have moved up through the state overnight. The National Weather Service said it includes Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole counties.
A tornado warning was issued in Osceola County near Yeehaw Junction until 8:30 a.m. and for south Brevard near Sebastian until 8:45 a.m.
Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Polk and Lake counties were all put under hurricane warnings Tuesday night as the system could bring potentially “catastrophic” flooding and hurricane-force gusts to Central Florida, forecasters said.
“It’s going to be historic,” said National Weather Service Melbourne meteorologist Kole Fehling.
A flood watch continues for all of east central Florida through late Thursday night, according to a Wednesday morning update from the NWS.
“Major flooding impacts are expected to develop throughout the day, and widespread heavy rainfall is expected to continue through Thursday night. Storm total rainfall amounts are forecast to range from 12 to 18 inches with localized amounts greater than 20 inches occurring over areas north of a line from Kissimmee to near New Smyrna Beach,” the statement reads.
From 8 to 15 inches are expected from Melbourne to Lake Kissimmee with some areas getting 18 inches while 4-8 inches with isolated areas of 12 inches are expected farther south, the NWS said.
“This amount of rainfall will cause major flooding for portions of the area, especially for locations that have already received high rainfall amounts over the past 7 days,” the statement reads. “Creeks and rivers that are already approaching bankfull will overflow, leading to substantial flooding. Urban locations and low-lying areas are especially vulnerable with inundation of major roadways and flooding of structures possible.”
Fehling said by comparison, the most rainfall that Orlando has ever experienced over a three-day period has been 13.75 inches.
“The normal value for the amount of rainfall over the entire year is about 52 inches,” Fehling said. “So if we were to see those higher- end totals, we could be experiencing half of our total annual rainfall in a very short period of time.”
He also predicted sustained winds of 55 to 65 mph in the region, with hurricane-force gusts of up to 80 mph.
The strongest winds are expected to arrive Thursday evening.
DeSantis said expected landfall is in Charlotte County, but residents in surrounding counties include Lee, Sarasota and Collier need to now stay in place.
“If you are in any of those counties, it’s no longer possible to safely evacuate,” he said. “It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm. This is a powerful storm that should be treated like you would treat if a tornado was approaching your home. If you’re out on the roads get to a safe place as soon as possible.”
He also warned about dangers after the storm passes.
“I urge you to be cautious. Avoid downed power lines. Avoid standing water, stay clear of damaged trees,” he said. “If you are using a generator for power make sure that that is being operated outside your home do not operate that indoors and then don’t drive in flooded streets — people will look and think they can drive through it and it doesn’t work out well for them.”
State Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Ian “does have Charley-esque feel to it” referring to Hurricane Charley’s path in 2004 that came ashore in Punta Gorda and then walloped Central Florida. “Big difference is it will have less intensity once it hits Central Florida dropping more rain.”
“It shouldn’t be nearly as catastrophic on the winds as Charley,” he said noting it may move through more quickly —over 24 hours instead of 36 or 48 hours.
DeSantis cautioned that despite losing steam once ashore, the dangers are real for the rest of the state.
“One thing for Central Florida is because we’ve had a lot of saturation, those trees are vulnerable,” he said. “So you’re going to see trees are going to come down even with tropical-storm-force winds. It does not need to be hurricane-force. You are absolutely going to see that that is going to cause interruptions in power. And of course the sheer amount of rain that’s going to come down. It’s gonna have a major impact.”
And its reach will extend beyond Central Florida.
“Even with a projected exit at Volusia County we will see impacts all the way up to Nassau and Duval counties,” DeSantis said.
This infrared radar image shows Hurricane Ian as it approaches Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (NOAA – GOES-East)
“Ian is forecast to approach the west coast of Florida as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, weakening is expected after landfall,” said NHC senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown. “On the forecast track, the center of Ian is expected to move onshore within the hurricane warning area later this morning or early afternoon. The center of Ian is forecast to move over central Florida tonight and Thursday morning and emerge over the western Atlantic by late Thursday.”
In Tampa Bay, the Florida Highway Patrol shut down the Skyway Bridge in both directions since winds were ranging from 50 to 60 mph. The bridge will remain closed until the storm passes.
Also in Tampa, in a similar way seen during Hurricane Irma in 2017, the water receded along Bayshore Boulevard, according to a post by the Tampa Police Department.
Similar scenes were seen farther south in Venice with the NWS in Tampa warning, “The water WILL come back. Please do not attempt to walk there or any other location with receding water.”
Ian had shifted its path south of Tampa Bay, and is now predicted to come ashore between Fort Myers and Sarasota before cutting across the state, including through Osceola and Orange counties and exiting near Daytona Beach, according to Wednesday morning’s 5 a.m. updated path.
The storm already started to wreak havoc on Florida on Tuesday night as two confirmed tornadoes were reported in Broward County, officials with the National Weather Service in Miami said. At North Perry Airport, several aircraft and hangars were damaged in a tornado in Pembroke Pines, said Arlene Satchell, spokesperson for the airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Another possible reported tornado left two injured and several displaced in Palm Beach County. Images from Palm Beach County Fire Rescue of the Kings Point area of Delray Beach showed flipped cars and damaged homes.
The U.S. Coast Guard said its crews assisted with seven separate people calling for help because of weather Wednesday morning.
“It’s always safer to follow city, county evac recommendations,” said its post on Twitter.
Orlando officials are bracing for Category 1 hurricane conditions or a strong tropical storm.
“I want citizens to take this storm seriously and prepare,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said Tuesday, at a news conference at the city’s Emergency Operation Center. “The track of the storm has changed fairly significantly to the east, so it looks like the path is directly over the city of Orlando in a few days.”
Orange County Fire Rescue teams are heading out Wednesday morning to visit all mobile home parks, encouraging residents to consider staying with family or friends during the storm.
“I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to say,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said at a press briefing Tuesday night. “It is recommended that residents consider evacuating flood prone areas sooner than later. We want to take it seriously. We do not want to have a situation where because of flooding, persons cannot leave their neighborhoods.”
[ Where to find hurricane shelters in Central Florida ]
He then cited areas where residents have previously reporting flooding during heavy rains, including Lakes of Windermere at Peachtree-Reams Road and Oasis-Reams Road, both in the Horizon West area of west Orange; Orla Vista and Westside Manor in the Pine Hills area; and Bonny Brooke-Oakridge Road near John Young Parkway.
“Remember the forecast calls for heavy rains that will cause accessibility issues due to the predicted high water levels,” the mayor said. “Orange County has already been oversaturated with rain. Another word of caution. If you have encountered street flooding in the past during regular rainstorms, you may want to consider evacuating as well as the streets may prove difficult to be reached by emergency response teams.”
Hurricane Ian plowed past Cuba on Tuesday as a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds, dropped some steam as it passed over land, but had been gaining back strength all day Tuesday.
The NHC said life-threatening storm surge is expected along the Florida west coast, with the Sarasota and Naples region considered the highest risk. Hurricane force winds are expected to the western region of Central Florida by Wednesday morning with tropical storm conditions overnight. Widespread, prolonged river flooding is expected across Central Florida, the NHC said.
Hurricane Ian cone of uncertainty as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (National Hurricane Center)
DeSantis suspended tolls on Central Florida toll roads until further notice in preparation for the system, the Central Florida Expressway Authority announced Tuesday evening. As of 5 p.m., Tuesday, drivers will not have to pay tolls throughout the 125-mile expressway system that stretches across Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.
He urged residents to keep themselves safe.
“We can rebuild property. We can fix infrastructure. You can fix your home. You don’t get a mulligan when your personal safety is at risk,” he said. “And so we know this thing is going to be hitting the state directly sometime tomorrow.”
On Tuesday, the continued shift in projected path Tuesday prompted the NHC to extend the hurricane warning along Florida’s west coast farther south so it now runs from Chokoloskee in the Everglades up to the Anclote River near Tarpon Springs including all of Tampa Bay as well as the Dry Tortugas. A tropical storm warning is in place from the Anclote River north to the Suwannee River, for all of the Florida Keys, and from Chokoloskee up the Florida East Coast to Altamaha Sound in Georgia as well as Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.
“The combination of storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the NHC said.
DeSantis said 5,000 National Guardsmen from Florida along with 2,000 more from neighboring states have been activated along with five urban search and rescue teams in preparation for the storm’s impact.
Hurricane Ian estimated time of arrival of winds as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (National Hurricane Center)
“Floridians up and down the Gulf Coast should feel the impacts of this as up to 36 hours before the actual landfall due to the size of the hurricane,” DeSantis said. “This is a really, really big hurricane at this point, the diameter, the width of it’s about 500 miles wide. So you look at the cone and if you look at where they have the landfall going, I think the landfall is still Levy County, the impacts are going to be much much broader than that.”
“Make sure you have your plan in place,” he said.
The state activated its toll-free hotline for up-to-date information regarding Hurricane Ian at 1-800-342-3557.
In Central Florida, the gas station at 7235 University Blvd. east of Winter Park ran out of gas by 8 a.m. Tuesday morning after receiving a truck of fuel on Monday, said co-owner Khuram Pervez. He said he and his partners bought the former RaceTrac at the end of July and are rebranding as “RaceStop.”
“Yesterday [Monday] we were packed,” Pervez said. “Literally, the right side of the lane of the road, that’s where people were trying to come in because it was packed.”
He hoped to get more fuel on Tuesday evening. The station was also out of cases of water.
“We had about 30, 40 cases and they [were] all gone on I believe two days ago,” Pervez said.
On the Gulf Coast, preparing for the storm in Indian Rocks Beach in Pinellas County, Michael Faraone, 38, has never feared a storm as much as he fears Hurricane Ian. He worked Tuesday morning to board up Pajano’s Pizza, a restaurant his family has owned since 1971.
“This one is the most concerning,” he said. “This is no joke. It could be life-changing for everyone.”
He said he’s confident the Tampa Bay-area will make it through the storm. Customers and friends have already been stopping by the pizzeria to offer their help.
“It’s scary, but it’s good to see everyone come together,” Faraone said.
DeSantis on Tuesday said 2.5 million people are now under evacuation orders. That includes Charlotte, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, which have all ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents from vulnerable areas.
Beachside neighbors living in an evacuation zone agonized Tuesday whether to stay or go as Hurricane Ian threatened to send massive storm surge into Tampa Bay-area coastal communities.
Scott Shapiro, 52, who lives on the water in Indian Rocks Beach, said he isn’t evacuating yet because he thinks the storm will take a more southerly path that would spare Tampa Bay the worst surge.
”A lot of times people leave too early, and they get stuck in the middle of the state,” Shapiro said. “I don’t want to get stuck anywhere. I am going to stay here as long as possible.”
”As long as it hits south of us, I’m good,” he said. “I’m worried about the water.”
Others boarded up their homes and heeded evacuation orders. I-4 traffic was bumper to bumper headed out of Tampa Monday night.
Sheila Couch was preparing to leave her rental property near the ocean and ride out the storm with a friend and her parents in The Villages.
”She said she is worried about her neighbors who aren’t leaving.
”Everybody helps each other out,” she said. “We all went and did sandbags together.”
As Ian’s center moved into the Gulf, official media began showing scenes of destruction in the country’s world-famous tobacco belt. The Cubadebate website showed photos of devastation at the Finca Robaina cigar producer, where wood-and-thatch roofs were smashed to the ground, and floodwaters flowed through the town of San Juan y Martinez.
More than 1 million Cubans were without power Tuesday morning, including all of the western provinces of Pinar del Rio and Artemisa. There were no reports of deaths.
President Joe Biden this week declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect lives and property.
NASA decided Monday to roll its $4.1 billion Artemis I mission rocket back to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, which it completed Tuesday morning.
Across Central Florida, schools began shutting down Tuesday with many planned to be out through at least Thursday.
Valencia College, Lake-Sumter State College and Seminole State College all will cancel classes this week because of the storm, according to the Florida Department of Education. Valencia, which serves Orange and Osceola counties, is holding classes Tuesday but will be closed Wednesday and Thursday. Eight of Florida’s 12 public universities plan shutdowns this week, too, including the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach closed Monday with no return date set yet. Rollins College in Winter Park, announced the campus will close at 5 p.m. Wednesday; with residential halls to close at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and all staying closed Thursday and Friday for damage assessment.
As far as theme parks go, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida announced Tuesday they would be closed Wednesday and Thursday. Busch Gardens Tampa said it would close Tuesday through Thursday. In Brevard, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be closed Wednesday and Thursday while other events around Central Florida have been canceled.
Orlando International Airport said it would shut down operations at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Orlando Sanford International Airport announced Tuesday it ill close after the final flight out scheduled to depart at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Officials asked passengers with travel scheduled through SFB to contact their airline.
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