Ian strengthened into a hurricane Monday as Florida began ordering evacuations this week and preparing for potential flooding.
Tornadoes are also possible late Monday and Tuesday over the Florida Keys and Florida’s southern and central peninsula, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A mandatory evacuation was issued Monday for some residents of Hillsborough County on the westernmost part of the Florida peninsula. Emergency shelters were opened in the province, including Tampa.
County Administrator Bonnie Wise told reporters that the evacuation orders and recommendations will go into effect Monday at 2 p.m.
“We have not made this decision easy, but the storm poses a serious threat and we must do everything we can to protect our residents,” Wise said at a news conference.
In consultation with Hillsborough officials, the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home of the US Central Command, has also announced a mandatory evacuation. The order is for “non-mission essential persons” living in the westernmost part of the province, including uniformed military personnel, civilian personnel and their families. This evacuation is in effect and will be completed by Tuesday afternoon.
Hernando County, about an hour north of Hillsborough, issued a voluntary evacuation order Monday for people living in low-lying areas and mobile homes. The order is required on Tuesday morning. The shelter will also open on Tuesday and the schools in the coastal province will be closed.
Manatee County, south of Hillsborough, has also announced plans for a mandatory evacuation for some residents to take effect Tuesday morning, according to a press release.
Tampa . International Airport braces for “potentially serious impacts” from the hurricane and “may begin to shut down parts of its airport and facilities in the next 24 to 48 hours” as wind speeds increase. All airport activities will cease when sustained winds reach 50 mph.
Cuba, Cayman Islands in the storm’s path
Ian is currently in the western Caribbean Sea It is expected to strengthen rapidly the next day and become a major hurricane as it approaches western Cuba, where it is expected to “cause significant wind and storm surge effects.”
The storm that will pass 195 miles southeast of Cuba’s western tip, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, with higher wind gusts, the hurricane center said.
A hurricane watch has been issued along Florida’s west coast from northern Englewood to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay, while a tropical storm warning is in place for the lower Florida Keys from Seven Mile Bridge to Key West and Dry Tortugas Island.
The center of Ian is expected to pass near or west of the Cayman Islands Monday, and near or over western Cuba Monday evening and early Tuesday, the hurricane center said.
“Ian will then rise over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday and pass west of the Florida Keys late Tuesday and approach the west coast of Florida on Wednesday,” it said.
Prepare for heavy rain, floods, storm surge
The hurricane is expected to bring 8 to 15 inches of rain to central West Florida, 3 to 8 inches to the rest of peninsular Florida and 4 to 6 inches to the Keys.
“Heavy rains are expected Friday and Saturday to hit northern Florida, eastern parts of the Florida Panhandle and parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions,” the hurricane center said. This rain could cause flash flooding and urban flooding in central Florida mid-to-late week, as well as the Florida Keys and the peninsula through mid-week.
Flooding and rises in streams and rivers over northern Florida and parts of the southeastern US are also possible mid-to-late week.
Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall along Florida’s west coast and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of this week, and Florida residents should ensure they have their hurricane plan ready. ,” it said.
In photos taken Sunday, Tampa residents could see sandbags filling to prevent flooding prior to the storm.
In Kissimmee, about an hour northeast of Tampa, a long line of customers waited outside a store in a race to stock up on supplies before Ian arrived. A number of people could be seen carrying several crates of water bottles out of the store.
Before reaching Florida, the hurricane is predicted to pass near or west of the Cayman Islands before moving on to western Cuba.
‘Pray and hope for the best’
“Life-threatening” storm surge and hurricane strength is expected to hit parts of western Cuba late Monday, with Ian expected to be at or near hurricane strength by the time it approaches the region.
Western Cuba can get anywhere from 6 to 16 inches of rain, the Cayman Islands can get 3 to 8 inches and Jamaica another 1 to 3 inches, according to forecasters. This rainfall can cause flash flooding and mudslides in higher elevations above western Cuba.
Water levels along the coast of western Cuba can rise as much as 9 to 14 feet above normal tides Monday night and early Tuesday.
There is a hurricane warning for the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa, while a tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas.
Authorities in Cuba have suspended school classes in Pinar del Rio province and said they would begin evacuations Monday in preparation for the storm.
Cuban state media outlet Granma reported that authorities planned to begin evacuating people from vulnerable areas in the far western province early Monday.
“Efforts to protect life and property must be completed urgently,” the Hurricane Center warned.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect for Grand Cayman, while tropical storm warnings are in effect for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Cayman Islands Prime Minister Wayne Panton urged residents to prepare for the storm and check in with neighbors.
He said there was some uncertainty, but that “history has taught us that we should prepare as best we can, and that we should prepare for the worst and absolutely pray and hope for the best.”