Tropical Storm Ian strengthens, storm watch issued for Florida Keys

Tropical Storm Ian was strengthening Sunday night and is expected to intensify more rapidly Monday and Tuesday – possibly a high-end Category 4 storm.

Big picture: Ian could hit western Florida or other parts of the Gulf Coast as a powerful hurricane as early as mid-week.

Game status: Tropical Storm Ian was about 430 miles southeast of the Cuban tip at 8 p.m. ET, and its maximum sustained winds had intensified to 60 mph from 45 mph Sunday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 12 miles per hour.

  • On Saturday night, President Biden declared a federal state of emergency for several Florida counties, as did Florida’s governor. Ron DeSantis declares a state of emergency.
  • A tropical storm watch has been issued for the lower Florida Keys.
  • The National Hurricane Center is forecasting 2 to 4 inches of rain from the Florida Keys to the southern and central Florida peninsula Monday through Wednesday morning.

What to watch: Ian is expected to become a hurricane on Monday and a “major hurricane” on Tuesday before hitting western Cuba, the National Hurricane Center said in an 8 p.m. update.

Threat Level: Research shows that the incidence of rapid intensification has increased due to anthropogenic climate change.

  • The Western Caribbean Sea is now a powder keg for hurricanes, with high ocean heat and weak upper-level winds.
A map showing the projected storm track for Tropical Storm Ian as it heads to Florida
The latest forecast track for Tropical Storm Ian, released by the National Hurricane Center at 8 p.m. ET Sunday.Credit: NOAA

What are they talking about: Even if Florida’s West Coast wasn’t hit directly by Ian, “a hurricane doesn’t need an onshore or direct hit to accumulate water,” acting NHC director Jamie Rhome said in a statement. Sunday Briefing.

  • He urged Florida residents to find out if they are in a possible evacuation zone through in case an evacuation is ordered.

What’s next: The key question for forecasters, government officials and tens of millions of residents along the Gulf Coast is where the storm will go once it becomes a hurricane, and how strong it will be once it gets there.

  • Computer models have been divided, with some showing landfall in northwest Florida or southeast Alabama. Others were hit further east, closer to Tampa.
  • Forecast trends since Friday have pushed the most likely orbit of the Ian Center westward, closer to the Florida Panhandle.
  • While the likelihood of a major impact in South Florida has decreased, it is not completely gone, and the Hurricane Center is urging all Floridians to prepare for the storm’s impact.

Context: Human-caused climate change is changing the characteristics of nature’s most powerful storms.

  • For example, rising sea levels from melting ice caps make storm surges from hurricanes more harmful.

This story has been updated with the latest estimates of the storm’s strengthening and when the storm is expected to become a hurricane.

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