The center said Friday that the forecast shows Ian “will become the dominant hurricane east of the Gulf as it approaches the west coast of Florida” after briefly passing Cuba. Much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, including the Eastern Panhandle, could be at risk.
Forecasting models for Saturday morning vary based on where Ian might make landfall off the coast of Florida. European models show landfall near Fort Myers on Wednesday afternoon, while U.S. models show landfall near the state’s Big Bend region on Friday morning.
The official hurricane center track separates the differences between the models, showing landfall near Tampa on Wednesday night.
Tropical storm strong winds could begin to affect southwest Florida early Tuesday and could make landfall on Wednesday.
After strengthening overnight, the storm – formerly known as Tropical Depression Nine – with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) is expected to approach Cayman early Monday over the next two days Hurricane status was reached in the archipelago. Further strengthening was expected as the system approached and crossed western Cuba on Monday night.
If it reappears in the warm waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the storm has the potential to reach or exceed major hurricane status of 111 mph (178 km/h).
“Ian may be approaching major hurricane strength as it approaches western Cuba,” the hurricane center said. “As Ian is not expected to remain in Cuba for long, it is not expected to weaken due to terrestrial interactions.”
The Cayman Islands government has issued Hurricane Watches for the Cayman Islands (including Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac). The Government of Jamaica has issued a Tropical Storm Watch.
NOAA hurricane hunters are scheduled to survey Ian later Saturday and provide more data, according to the center.
As the forecast strengthens, the Florida governor. On Friday, Ron DeSantis requested federal emergency assistance to deal with the threat and declared a state of emergency in 24 counties. Under the state emergency order, members of the Florida National Guard will be activated and placed on standby awaiting orders.
“This storm has the potential to intensify into a major hurricane, and we encourage all Floridians to prepare,” DeSantis said in a news conference. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track this potential impact of the storm.”
Forecasters urge residents to prepare
Expected to be an above-average hurricane season, it’s a slow start. Only one storm made landfall on U.S. soil, and no hurricanes made landfall or threatened adjoining states.
Now, a week past the peak of the hurricane season, the tropics appear to have woken up, and forecasters fear people will let their guard down.
“After a slow start, the Atlantic hurricane season is rapidly increasing,” Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University, tweeted.
“People tend to lower their guard and think, oh yeah, we’re out of the woods,” Maria Torres, a spokeswoman for the Hurricane Center, told CNN. “But really, the season goes on. We’re still on 9 month; we still have October to go. Anything that forms in the Atlantic or the Caribbean is something we need to monitor closely.”
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.
In any case, if you live in the Caribbean, Florida and other Gulf Coast states, keep an eye out for updated forecasts this weekend into early next week.