Tropical Storm Ian will strengthen, Florida strip uncertain

Tropical Storm Ian will strengthen, Florida strip uncertain
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Tropical Storm Ian is expected to “rapidly intensify” today, become a major hurricane within the next 48 hours and eventually hit Florida – but many questions remain, including when, where and how strong the storm will make landfall.

In an update at 8 a.m. Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Ian still had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. The storm was located about 320 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and 590 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba and was moving west-northwest at 12 mph. A hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman, and a hurricane warning is in effect for parts of Cuba.

“The NHC intensity forecast predicts that rapid intensification will begin today and Ian will become a major hurricane as it approaches western Cuba in about 48 hours,” the NHC said in an update earlier Sunday. The storm is expected to strengthen to a Category 3 storm on Tuesday with sustained winds of 120 mph, and to a Category 4 storm on Wednesday with winds of 140 mph.

Computer forecast models agree that Ian will hit Florida, but disagree on where. “There is still considerable variation in the exact track of the storm, particularly after 72 hours,” the NHC warned.

Two models, UKMET and ECMWF, indicate that the storm will make landfall in west-central Florida. Two other models, the GFS and HWRF, show the storm moving further west and taking Ian to central or western Florida. The NHC said there is a 220 to 250 mile difference between the model tracks in the Day 4 and Day 5 forecast for Ian.

Tropical Storm Ian's forecast path as of 8 a.m. Sunday from the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane center’s current forecast track for the storm largely splits the difference between the NHC’s best estimates and different sets of models.

“It cannot be overemphasized that significant uncertainty remains in Ian’s long-term forecast,” the NHC warned.

“Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of a dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rain along Florida’s west coast and Florida Panhandle through midweek, and Florida residents should brace themselves. Prepare a hurricane plan, follow any advice from local officials and monitor forecast updates closely,” the hurricane center said.

This satellite image shows Tropical Storm Ian spinning south of Cuba to enter the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday morning.

John Cangialosi, chief hurricane specialist at the Miami-based hurricane center, said it was not yet clear where Ian would hit the hardest. He said Floridians should begin preparations, including stocking up on supplies, for potential power outages.

“The really right message for people living in Florida at this point is that you need to watch the forecast and be prepared and brace yourself for the potential impact of this tropical system,” he said.

Throughout Central Florida, residents spent part of the weekend preparing for Ian’s possible arrival.

A Target store near Millenia had very few gallons of bottled water left Saturday because signs on the shelves limited purchases to four cans or bottles per customer.

“This is the third store I’ve visited today,” said Maritza Osorio, who was on her way to fourth from Target. “If not, we’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

There was little foot traffic through the Home Depot on the same square, with many people carrying water in their carts and others looking for plywood sheets to be used as shutters along with other items.

Key messages from the National Hurricane Center regarding Tropical Storm Ian and its impact on Florida and elsewhere.

While it’s still unclear if Ian will hit Central Florida or how strong it will be, people like Gary Wilson aren’t taking any chances. He had outfitted his hurricane kit weeks before the season and was at Home Depot making final preparations just in case.

“If anything happens, I’m ready,” Wilson said.

On Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for the entire Sunshine State – expanding the order he issued Friday to declare a state of emergency in twenty counties. DeSantis also mobilized the National Guard to help with storm preparation and recovery.

“This storm has the potential to become a major hurricane, and we urge all Floridians to be prepared,” DeSantis said. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to monitor the potential impacts of this storm.”

President Joe Biden also declared a state of emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate disaster relief efforts and help protect lives and property.

Earliest reasonable arrival of tropical storm-force winds from Ian.

The president postponed the planned September. 27 trip to Orlando due to the storm.

Cristobal Reyes of the Sentinel staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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