Now a Category 4, Ian Barrels Toward Florida

Hurricane-force winds, rainfall of up to 18 inches, 'life-threatening' storm surges expected
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 28, 2022 6:35 AM CDT
Ian Barrels Toward Florida as a Category 4
A sandbag station is seen Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., as Hurricane Ian approaches.   (Martha Asencia-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Hurricane Ian intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm as it approached Florida, and forecasters predicted it would retain top winds of 140mph until landfall Wednesday afternoon. Tropical storm-force winds and rain were already hitting the state's heavily populated Gulf Coast, with the Naples to Sarasota region at "highest risk" of a devastating storm surge, per the AP. US Air Force hurricane hunters confirmed Ian gained strength over warm Gulf of Mexico waters after battering Cuba, bringing down the country's electricity grid and leaving the entire island without power. The hurricane could push as much as 12 feet of ocean water ashore in Florida, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said, urging people to evacuate the danger zone if they still can.

More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, but by law no one could be forced to flee. Ian was centered about 55 miles west-southwest of Naples at 6am ET on Wednesday, swirling toward the coast at 10mph. The hurricane center predicted Ian would roar ashore Wednesday afternoon. Winds exceeding tropical-storm strength of 39mph reached Florida by 3am, and hurricane-force winds were expected in Florida well in advance of the eyewall moving inland, the Miami-based center said. Rainfall near the area of landfall could top 18 inches. "It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm's projected path. "This is the kind of storm surge that is life threatening."

Ian's forward movement slowed over the Gulf, enabling the hurricane to grow wider and stronger. A hurricane warning covered roughly 220 miles of the state. Tampa and St. Petersburg were included and could potentially get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921. Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Key West closed, while Disney World theme parks and SeaWorld in Orlando all closed ahead of the storm. The precise location of landfall was still uncertain, but with Ian's tropical storm-force winds extending 175 miles from its center, damage was expected across a wide area of Florida. Flash floods were possible across the whole state, and portions of its east coast faced a potential storm surge threat as Ian's bands approach the Atlantic Ocean. Warnings also were issued for isolated tornadoes. Florida Power and Light have warned those in Ian's path to brace for days without electricity.

(Read more Hurricane Ian stories.)

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