Tropical Storm Ian strengthened into a hurricane on Monday as it barreled toward Cuba and Florida, rapidly intensifying as hurricane watches were issued along a swath of Florida’s west coast .
Some evacuations were ordered Monday along the Hillsborough County coast; more were expected as Ian approaches. The storm was moving northwest at 14 mph, about 90 miles southwest of Grand Cayman, according to the National Hurricane Center. It has maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.
“A rapid increase in strengthening is expected early this week as Ian moves into the western Caribbean, where there is little wind shear and very warm water,” said senior meteorologist AccuWeather Adam Douty. “This will increase the likelihood of significant impacts in the western Caribbean and ultimately the United States.”
Ian was expected to rapidly intensify into a major hurricane, Category 3 or higher, as early as late Monday, AccuWeather said. The storm could reach a Category 4, which means sustained winds of 130 mph to 156 mph.
Ian was forecast to exit over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, pass west of the Florida Keys on Tuesday afternoon and approach the west coast of Florida on Wednesday.
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NASA rolls the spaceship back into the building because of Ian
NASA will roll the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft back into a building on Monday after overnight data “does not show the expected improvement in conditions” for the Kennedy Space Center area , NASA said. The decision gives employees time to address the needs of their families while protecting the integrated rocket and spacecraft system. The launch, scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed due to the storm. Putting the spacecraft back into the vehicle assembly building will likely delay the launch even further.
Artemis is a first step in establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon in preparation for missions to Mars.
Landfall in Florida likely midweek
Landfall is becoming more likely in Florida during the week, AccuWeather said. Ian is expected to miss most of the high, mountainous terrain in Cuba that often disrupts tropical systems, allowing the storm to become a powerful Category 4 hurricane. What happens next will depend largely on the exact track that Ian does, according to AccuWeather. A southward dip in the jet stream across the United States will help pull the storm north and toward the coast.
“How quickly this interaction occurs will determine Ian’s track, as well as the strength of the system when it makes landfall,” AccuWeather said.
Follower of Hurricane Ian
Florida prepares for Ian’s fury
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane watch Monday along the west coast of Florida from north of Englewood to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency across the state and urged residents to stock up on food, water, medicine, batteries and fuel. He said it was too early to determine when or where Ian would make landfall, but that evacuations may be ordered in the coming days.
“Expect heavy rain, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge and even isolated tornadoes. Make preparations now,” he said Sunday. “Expect power outages. That’s something that’s likely to happen with a hurricane of this magnitude.”
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Category 4 storms can cause “catastrophic” damage.
If the storm were a Category 4 hurricane, it could cause “catastrophic” damage and power outages could last for weeks or possibly months, according to the National Weather Service’s description of such strong storms. Areas could be uninhabitable for weeks or months, the weather service says.
“Even if it’s not necessarily right in the eye of the storm’s path, there will be pretty broad impacts across the state,” DeSantis warned.
The storm could bring heavy rain throughout the week
Heavy rain is expected to affect northern Florida, eastern parts of the Florida Panhandle, and parts of the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions through the weekend.
“Considerable flooding impacts are possible by mid-to-late week in central Florida given previously saturated conditions,” the weather service warned. “Urban and flash flooding is possible with rain in the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula through midweek.”
Limited flooding and rising impacts are possible on area streams and rivers in northern Florida and parts of the southeast by mid to late week.
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Bethune-Cookman University orders evacuation
Bethune-Cookman University canceled classes Monday and said it would reconvene remotely on Tuesday.
“As a precaution, and in the interest of the safety of members of our campus community, the university has issued a mandatory campus evacuation,” the school said in a statement on its website. The school, a historically black private university in Daytona Beach, has about 2,750 undergraduate students.
The school told its students that their smartphones are “computers” and that they should continue to use their cellphones to keep up with their studies if they don’t have access to a tablet, laptop or desktop technology.
Florida’s west coast could receive a rare hurricane
AccuWeather forecasters are warning that the storm could hit Florida’s west coast, a target that is often missed. 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 Weather 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 seems likely to follow a “very unusual path,” he said.
Florida has had recent storms that were hurricanes but downgraded to tropical storms before landfall, Ferrell said. Elsa in 2021 made landfall 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.
Contributor: The Associated Press