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Ian shifts, could strike Florida as hurricane

Sept. 24, 2022 Updated Sat., Sept. 24, 2022 at 8:58 p.m.

A Publix store in Metrowest was nearly sold out of water on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, as residents ready themselves ahead of Tropical Storm Ian, which is expected to make landfall in Florida as a hurricane.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
A Publix store in Metrowest was nearly sold out of water on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, as residents ready themselves ahead of Tropical Storm Ian, which is expected to make landfall in Florida as a hurricane. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Richard Tribou Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. – Tropical Storm Ian grew overnight in the Caribbean, still with a path that could bring it to Florida next week as a hurricane, prompting Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency across the Sunshine State.

The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update puts Tropical Storm Ian’s center about 255 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, and about 445 miles southeast of Grand Cayman with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph moving west at 16 mph. Tropical-storm-force winds extend out 60 miles.

The long-term path has shifted since Saturday morning, though, so the NHC projects landfall farther north along Florida’s Gulf Coast north of Tampa, although that projection is likely to continue shifting through the weekend, forecasters said.

“Ian is expected to remain a major hurricane when it moves generally northward across the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the middle of next week, but uncertainty in the track forecast is higher than usual,” said NHC hurricane specialist Brad Reinhart. Regardless of Ian’s exact track, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of next week, and residents in Florida should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place, follow any advice given by local officials, and closely monitor updates to the forecast.

Most of the state of Florida is within Tropical Storm Ian’s “cone of uncertainty,” now, although the NHC cautioned computer models continue to diverge beyond 72 hours on where the storm goes in the Gulf of Mexico after leaving Cuba.

Regardless of its exact path, Ian will start impacting Florida next week.

“Don’t get fixated on these little changes [in the cone],” said Jamie Rhome, acting NHC director. “It can just as easily move back and don’t get fixated whether you’re in or out of the cone.”

Rhome said there is “increasing” confidence of a “potentially very impactful hurricane for the western coast of the Florida peninsula.” Forecasters are particularly concerned about potential storm surge in that area, Rhome said.

“We really need you to be prepared and start moving through your hurricane plan,” he said.

The NHC said the Florida Keys and South Florida could see heavy rain as early as Monday with limited flash and urban flooding possible projecting 2 to 4 inches with some areas up to 5 inches through Tuesday evening.

NASA decided Saturday morning it wasn’t worth risking a launch attempt from Kennedy Space Center for its Artemis I mission to the moon on Tuesday as well, but won’t make a decision until Sunday on whether or not to roll back the Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft to the safety of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The rocket can withstand sustained winds of 85 mph at the launch pad, so if it stays a potential launch could happen on Oct. 2.

The storm, forecast to grow its winds to sustained Category 3 hurricane strength of 115 mph, prompted DeSantis’ emergency declaration.

“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” he said. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm.”

DeSantis also requested a federal emergency declaration ahead of landfall that would free up funding sources for emergency protective measures for the entire state.

The latest cone of uncertainty still has the system approaching Florida late Tuesday, parked 100 miles to the west of Naples Wednesday morning, and making landfall Thursday morning as a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds and 130 mph gusts north of Tampa in Hernando or Citrus counties.

Forecasters expect it to gain hurricane strength quicker that earlier forecast, as soon as Sunday night.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the Cayman Islands with a tropical storm watch in place for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Elsewhere in the tropics, Hurricane Fiona became Post Tropical-Cyclone Fiona as it headed toward Canada. At 11 a.m., it was located 100 miles west-northwest of Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland, with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. It was moving north at a 25 mph.

Tropical Storm Gaston, meanwhile, was heading away from the Azores islands in the Atlantic and Tropical Storm Hermine continues to churn off the coast of Africa. Finally, the NHC is monitoring a disturbance several hundred miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands.

Since Sept. 1 the tropics have begun to play catch-up, churning out six named storms in three weeks after nearly two months of quiet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in early August updated its season prediction that 2022 would still be above-average with 14 to 21 named storms, although not a single named storm formed in the month of August.

The 2020 hurricane season set a record with 30 named systems, while 2021′s season was the third most active with 21 named systems. An average year calls for 14 named storms.

Through Ian, 2022 has produced nine named systems.

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