Monday, September 26, residents of Cuba and Florida were instructed to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian. Late Monday morning, the storm was roughly 240 miles away from Cuba’s western tip. It is moving in from the southeast with winds topping out at 80 mph. Ian is forecast to impact Florida’s west coast as early as Wednesday, September 28, as a Category 4 with winds of up to 140 mph.
Cuba is also on high alert. Daniel Brown, a senior specialist with the National Hurricane Center (NHC), announced Monday that the island nation was expected to see severe winds, heavy rainfall, and “life-threatening” storm surges. Cuban authorities will shut down the train system before the worst weather hits. Evacuation procedures are already underway and classes in the Pinar del Rio province have been suspended.
Regarding storm preparations in Florida, Timothy Dudley, Director of Hillsborough County Emergency Management, issued a stark warning at a press conference Monday: “Please treat this storm seriously. It’s the real deal.”
The NHC does not expect Ian to hover over western Cuba for long. Experts predict the hurricane will intensify as it moves over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, September 27. This could result in a larger wind field developing as Ian slows down, just in time to potentially deliver extreme hurricane-force winds and storm surges along Florida’s west coast.
The Tampa Bay area could see up to ten inches of rain and surges up to ten feet. Isolated areas could see upwards of fifteen inches of rain. This is enough to cause severe flooding in low-level communities. Florida residents are wasting no time in preparing for Hurricane Ian. People in Tampa waited in line for hours to buy sandbags, and shelves of bottled water were emptied swiftly.
Up to 300,000 people could be evacuated from Hillsborough County’s low-lying areas. County Administrator Bonnie Wise detailed these preparations at a news conference on Monday. Evacuations of the most endangered areas will begin Monday afternoon, with buildings such as schools being used as shelters. Wise noted, “Time is of the essence.”
Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency across Florida. He is urging residents to be prepared for strong winds, rising sea levels, and heavy rains. President Joe Biden has also declared an emergency. This means that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been authorized to aid and coordinate disaster relief.
For now, it appears that Tampa and St. Petersburg are Ian’s most likely targets. If this is the case, it will be the first time in a century that a major hurricane directly impacts these cities.