Hurricane Ian is expected to bring a perilous storm surge and winds

Hurricane Ian is expected to bring a perilous storm surge and winds as strong as 140 mph when it approaches Florida’s Gulf Coast this week, the National Hurricane Center said.

Upon reaching western Cuba, Ian became a Category 3 storm as of 5 a.m. ET Tuesday; it recorded maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. In Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region, Pinar del Rio, officials set up dozens of shelters and took steps to protect crops. Storm surges could reach 14 feet (4.3 meters) on the island’s west coast, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

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In some areas, Ian’s storm surge could raise water levels nine to 14 feet above normal tide levels as it hits Cuba, according to the hurricane center. While the surge is expected to be less severe in Florida, parts of Tampa Bay could still experience higher water levels than usual.

Approximately 5 miles west of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Ian was moving northwest at 12 mph, according to the NHC’s 5 a.m. advisory. “Hurricane-force winds, life-threatening storm surges and heavy rainfall are expected in Cuba,” hurricane center senior specialist Daniel Brown told The Associated Press.

During the next 48 hours, the storm is expected to shift course toward the north and northeast – and where it makes landfall on the mainland will likely depend on how it moves.

Western Cuba is under a hurricane warning, which means dangerous conditions are imminent. Approximately 100 miles of the Florida coast are under hurricane watch, from Englewood north to the Anclote River – including Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg. Normally, hurricane watches are issued 48 hours before storm conditions develop.

Hurricane Ian is the fourth Atlantic hurricane of 2022, a season that just saw its first hurricane earlier this month. 

Ian’s menacing approach reminds us of a warning hurricane experts often sound: A single bad storm can upend lives.

“It only takes one land-falling hurricane to make it a bad season for you,” Jamie Rhome, the NHC’s acting director, told NPR earlier this month.

President Biden and Governor Ron DeSantis have both declared emergencies in Florida, facilitating coordination between federal and state agencies.

All eyes are on forecasts that model Ian’s potential path along the eastern Gulf of Mexico coast. Despite the latest track, experts urge everyone in the region to develop an emergency plan, even if the storm isn’t expected to hit their area.

According to current predictions, the storm will stay north of Florida’s western coast as it moves northward. In central western Florida, it is expected to drop 8-10 inches of rain, up to 15 inches in local areas.

Because of a double-whammy of storm surge and waves whipped by strong winds, the deepest waters along the coast are expected to strike on the storm’s right-hand side.

“Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of this week,” the NHC said on Monday.

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