As forecasts foretold, Ian took advantage of ripe conditions in the western Caribbean late yesterday to blossom overnight into the Atlantic’s fourth hurricane of 2022.
The hurricane is expected to rapidly strengthen over the next few days into a powerful Category 4 storm and target Florida’s Gulf Coast with major storm surge, most notably from southwest Florida through the state’s sweeping Big Bend.
While the exact details of Ian’s U.S. impacts are still emerging, the serious nature of life-threatening storm surge along an extensive stretch of Florida’s vulnerable Gulf coastline will trigger large scale evacuations, beginning in earnest in the coming days.
For interests in coastal counties of the western peninsula and Big Bend, follow orders from local officials and if asked to evacuate, do so without pause.
For us in southeastern Florida, the primary threat in the coming days will be heavy rain – up to 8 inches or more in some spots through Thursday – and feeder bands that could bring squally weather and localized flooding.
The heavy rain threat will begin later today with a big push of juicy air ahead of Ian and continue through Wednesday as the storm passes well to our west.
In addition to the flood threat, isolated tornadoes will be a concern in cells moving quickly through South Florida, especially tomorrow.
For the Keys, in particular the Lower Keys, in addition to the heavy rain and flood threat, tropical storm winds (winds above 38 mph) are likely, with storm surge flooding of up to 4 feet possible in flood-prone areas of onshore winds.
For the broader Gulf Coast of Florida into the panhandle, as former NHC Director and WPLG Hurricane Specialist Max Mayfield is fond of saying, don’t focus on the skinny black line, whether in the official forecast or in the forecast models.
Ian is liable to be a large hurricane in the eastern Gulf and a wiggle here or a wobble there just isn’t something we’re going to know this far out.
What we do know is that it will be lumbering along, and a slow-moving any-Category hurricane in the eastern Gulf is a bad news story for rain and surge.
While wind gets all the glory, for hurricanes, water both from rainfall and storm surge is historically the most dangerous hazard, accounting for nearly 90 percent of tropical cyclone deaths.
Even areas into Florida’s panhandle aren’t off the hook with Ian, as the storm could jog westward by late week with the jet stream dip tugging it northeastward lifting out.
With so many details still left to iron out, check back frequently for the latest updates, have a plan, and be prepared to act if you live along Florida’s Gulf Coast.