Hurricane Ian to hit Florida late Wednesday local time, could be Cat 5

The Gulf coast of Florida was continuing to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, now expected for late Wednesday September 28th local time. The hurricane passed over Cuba on Tuesday and by Wednesday morning was moving north over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, gathering strength again.

There remained some uncertainty about Ian’s track and intensity, but avoiding a large and destructive hurricane for Florida seemed “very unlikely,” according to the National Hurricane Centre in a Tuesday night forecast.

Model predictions for the location of landfall shifted slightly south late on Tuesday, which served to reduce, but not to eliminate, the chance that Tampa Bay would be directly in the storm’s path. The altered path left Orlando, someway inland, directly in the path. However, as hurricane watchers know, last-minute dinks in direction by hurricanes just before landfall are not uncommon (one such last-minute change, by Katrina in 2005, saved New Orleans from even greater damage than it actually suffered).

As of Tuesday night Ian was expected to hit shore as a Category 3 or low Category 4 hurricane between Fort Myers and Sarasota, with severe winds extending up to 40 miles from the eye. However by early Wednesday local time (early afternoon London time) there were fears that the intensity could be greater, possibly reaching category 5.

A 5-to-10 foot storm surge in the extremely vulnerable Tampa Bay appeared less likely than in earlier forecasts, but a surge of 4-to-6 feet was still expected in the area, plus heavy flooding rains of 4-to-8 inches. Tampa’s low-lying areas are under an evacuation order which affects about 300,000 residents, and the port has been closed in advance of the storm’s arrival.

On the shore, concern pivoted to Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte on narrow Charlotte Harbour. The region could see a storm surge of up to 12 feet under Tuesday night forecasts. Virtually all of Punta Gorda and a large share of Port Charlotte were under an evacuation order.

At Port Tampa Bay, Port Manatee, St. Petersburg and Fort Myers, the U.S. Coast Guard had set Port Condition Yankee, which requires vessels over 500 GT to prepare to depart.

On Monday and Tuesday Port Tampa Bay’s staff began to secure facilities along the waterfront and remove any materials that could be blown loose in a storm. Its Port Heavy Weather Advisory Group, made up of regional maritime operators and stakeholders, set up a queueing system for vessels that would be required to depart port ahead of the storm.

Hurricane Ian had hit Cuba as a major hurricane on Tuesday morning. Part of the island lost power immediately, but a few hours later the entire grid collapsed (see below).