Ian to strike southwest Florida today as one of the strongest US hurricanes on record; catastrophic storm surge imminent

Latest update on the tropics provided by Local 10 Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert Michael Lowry

Hurricane Ian on final approach to southwest Florida Wednesday morning as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph, as viewed by Tampa radar. (Mark Nissenbaum/FSU.)

Hurricane Ian regrouped yesterday evening as it passed only about 75 miles west of Key West last night, growing into a much larger hurricane and re-strengthening overnight into what will be one of the strongest hurricanes to ever strike the United States later today.

The powerful 155 mph winds from Ian are forecast to sweep a coastal storm surge of up to 18 feet over normally populated areas from Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda southward to Fort Myers along Florida’s vulnerable southwest coast.

(NOAA)

The inundation could extend inland over 10 miles in areas near and to the right of where Ian comes ashore. The slow-moving disaster is then expected to wring out up to two feet of rain across parts of central and northeast Florida into early Friday.

(NOAA)

Water is historically the deadliest hazard of a hurricane and Ian is bringing a lot of water with it.

On Tuesday and into the early morning hours on Wednesday, Ian battered the lower Florida Keys, with winds topping 75 mph at Key West International Airport and nearly 100 mph near the Dry Tortugas.

Offshore, waves reached 25 to 42 feet at a buoy 15 miles southwest of Key West.

The combination of water rise from the storm surge and waves crashing ashore brought widespread flooding to parts of the Lower Keys overnight.

The Key West tide gauge recorded its third highest storm tide (the combination of high tide plus the rise in water from storm surge) going back to 1913, when the station was established.

Ian’s surge in the Lower Keys falls only behind Wilma in 2005 and Irma in 2017, both devastating storms for the area.

In southeastern Florida, winds continue to gust to tropical storm strength (above 38 mph) this morning, especially in squally storms that move quickly through on Ian’s outer edge. At times these cells have produced brief isolated tornadoes, including a confirmed tornado last night in Cooper City and Hollywood. The tornado threat will continue for South Florida at least through this afternoon.

(NOAA)

The main threat for our area has been the heavy rainfall and localized flooding. Radar estimates 8 to 10 inches of rain has fallen across parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties since Monday, with the highest totals so far from North Miami to Hollywood, Davie, Sunrise, and Coral Springs.

While isolated heavy rain is still possible today, the flood threat should begin to gradually diminish across South Florida as drier air wraps in behind Ian later today.

Except for lingering strong winds and some scattered storms, conditions will noticeably improve across South Florida on Thursday and especially by Friday as rain chances plummet into the weekend.

Beyond the historic impact in southwest Florida and through the peninsula, Ian will deliver a serious flood threat to northeast Florida as its stiff northeasterly winds stuff water up the St. Johns River while the core of the storm unleashes up to 18 inches of rain across Florida’s First Coast.

Expect widespread flooding of roads and structures from Ian’s passage tomorrow.

Ian is expected to quickly weaken as it turns northward into the southeastern U.S. by the weekend.

Our thoughts are with everyone in our state who will be impacted in the days, months, and years ahead from this devastating hurricane.


About the Author:

Michael Lowry is Local 10's Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert.