Tropical Storm Ian was expected to gain strength quickly Sunday as it races through the Caribbean toward Cuba and threatened to make a big hit on Florida’s west coast later in the week.
Ian was 590 miles southeast of Cuba early Sunday, sailing northwest at 12 mph with 50 mph winds. Ian was expected to reach hurricane status Sunday, then cross western Cuba Monday night and early Tuesday and head toward the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, the National Weather Service said in the his 8 am update.
“Ian is expected to become a hurricane later today or tonight and reach strong hurricane intensity late Monday or Monday night before making landfall west of Cuba,” Brad warned Reinhart, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Major hurricanes are rated Category 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5, with sustained winds of more than 110 mph. Such storms can cause “devastating” damage, many trees can be snapped or uprooted, and power and running water can sometimes be unavailable for days or weeks after the storm passes, the weather service warns.
IAN COULD BE A MAJOR HURRICANE SOON:A state emergency was declared in Florida
Florida’s west coast could receive a rare hurricane
AccuWeather forecasters warn the storm could hit Florida’s west coast, an often-missed target. The US database shows that about 160 hurricanes, not including tropical storms, have hit Florida. Only 17 have made landfall on the west coast north of the Florida Keys.
Most storms tend to travel to the northeast or northwest, not to the coast, said AccuWeather Senior Meteorology Editor Jesse Ferrell. There is no record of a hurricane that has tracked completely along Florida’s west coast since records began in 1944. But Ian appears to be following a “very unusual track,” he said.
Florida has had recent storms that were hurricanes but downgraded to tropical storms before landfall, Ferrell said. Elsa in 2021 made landfall just west of Tampa and Eta in 2020 made landfall north of Tampa at Cedar Key. However, the firepower was nowhere near a Category 3 storm either.
DeSantis declares a state of emergency
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday afternoon ahead of landfall for all 67 counties. The declaration followed DeSantis’ 24-county declaration late Friday afternoon.
“Floridians should remain vigilant and make sure their homes are prepared for a possible impact,” DeSantis said.
Ian will then move inland somewhere in the southeastern United States or could track near or along parts of the East Coast later this week, The Weather Channel said, and he added that it’s too early to tell where Ian will end up, but it could be wind, flooding rain and other impacts that spread to other parts of the east late next week.
Biden authorizes FEMA to help
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 provide assistance to protect lives and property.
Biden postponed a scheduled Sept. 27 trip to Florida because of the storm.
Caymans, Cuba to see Ian’s fury first
But Ian will hurt even before he gets to Cuba. Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Grand Cayman early Monday, with tropical storm conditions forecast for Sunday night, the weather service said.
Hurricane conditions are possible within the hurricane watch area in Cuba Monday night or early Tuesday, with tropical storm conditions possible Monday afternoon. Tropical storm conditions are possible in the tropical storm watch area in Cuba Monday night and Tuesday.
Contributing: Christine Fernando and Claire Thornton, USA TODAY; The Associated Press