Ian strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane while blasting western Cuba overnight. The powerful hurricane is expected to strengthen further over the southern Gulf as it sets its eye toward southwest and west-central Florida for Wednesday and Thursday.
Widespread mandatory evacuations began in earnest on Monday for the vulnerable coastal communities in Ian’s path as the storm is forecast to sweep up to 10 feet of saltwater into low-lying areas of onshore flow near its destructive core.
While damaging winds and power outages are a concern not just at the coast but inland across Florida’s central peninsula, it’s the water – both from the coast and from the sky – that poses the greatest danger ahead.
As Ian slows down on approach Wednesday, it’s forecast to unleash up to two feet of rainfall through west-central Florida and up to a foot of rain stretching clear across the peninsula into northeastern Florida.
As of Tuesday morning, the entire Florida peninsula is under a watch or warning of some kind in advance of large and powerful Hurricane Ian.
Exactly where the center of Ian comes ashore in Florida will matter as to which areas experience the worst of the coastal storm surge, since it’s generally south-facing shorelines south and east of the center that are at greatest risk.
That said, Ian’s progress will slow and may become erratic as it nears the coast of Florida. Forecasting the wiggles and wobbles in advance is impossible and those in the path shouldn’t focus on the exact forecast track.
A hurricane is more than a point on a map, and if you’re under a hurricane or storm surge warning, you’re at high risk and should plan accordingly.
The severity of the forecast cannot be overstated. Ian has the potential for delivering the type of life-threatening coastal flooding this stretch of Florida hasn’t seen in modern memory.
Even if the storm weakens some prior to landfall, the slowdown at the coast and expanding wind field will act to minimize the gains. Acting NHC Director and the agency’s former lead storm surge scientist characterizes the threat as a “near worst case scenario” for the region.
For us in South Florida, today and Wednesday will be our most impactful days from Ian.
With the track of Ian shifting slightly eastward overnight, a tropical storm watch was issued for Broward and Miami-Dade counties, but tropical storm winds (winds above 38 mph) should be confined largely to gusts in squally rainbands across southeast Florida.
For the Keys, especially the Lower Keys, tropical storm conditions will be widespread as Ian nears later today.
The primary threats for us will be the potential for heavy rain – up to 10 inches in areas stuck under long feeder bands – that could produce flash flooding, especially in the urban corridor of the Miami and Fort Lauderdale metros, as well as the likelihood of quick spin-up tornadoes in storm cells advancing ashore. Most hurricane-spawned tornadoes happen before landfall in outer rainbands, and, while the majority tend to be weak (EF0 or EF1), they can happen quickly which may lessen the warning time.
All South Florida is under a tornado and flood watch today.
By Thursday, drier air should begin wrapping around and conditions improving across southeast Florida and the Keys as winds subside.
In the meantime, we’ll hunker down, keep a close eye on the weather moving through, and check in on our friends and family on the other side of the peninsula in Ian’s ominous path.