The Tampa Bay area on Saturday remained in the potential path of Tropical Storm Ian, which powered up into a named storm late Friday night and was expected to strengthen into a major hurricane by the middle of the week.
Ian’s path is hardly set in stone, but its expected emergence into the Gulf of Mexico conjures memories of previous storms that strengthened in the Gulf’s warm waters before hitting Florida, including Hurricane Michael in 2018, Irma in 2017 and Charley in 2004.
“Confidence is unfortunately increasing in a potentially very impactful hurricane for the western coast of the Florida peninsula,” Jamie Rhome, the acting director of the National Hurricane Center, said in a video posted to Twitter on Saturday.
A direct hit on the Tampa Bay area from a Category 3 storm, which would pack winds of more than 111 mph and push a potentially dangerous storm surge, could be devastating.
Rhome suggested Tampa Bay area residents have their hurricane preparations completed by Tuesday evening, as the area likely will start to experience tropical storm conditions by Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday declared a state of emergency for 24 counties, including those in the Tampa Bay area, though he expanded that declaration for the entire state on Saturday.
Pinellas County commissioners also voted during an emergency meeting on Saturday to declare a local state of emergency. The Pasco commission is planning a similar meeting on Monday.
On Saturday night, Ian was located about 230 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, and about 430 miles southeast of Grand Cayman. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 45 mph with higher gusts. Tropical storm force winds extended 60 miles from the storm’s core.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Cayman Islands.
The storm was moving west at 14 mph Saturday night, but a northwestward turn was expected to occur on Sunday followed by a turn to the north-northwest by late Monday.
Rhome said a center of circulation had formed that was tucked beneath a patch of showers and thunderstorms, a sign that Ian was getting more organized.
“This area of the northwest Caribbean is very conducive for strengthening,” he said.
Ian was expected to pass southwest of Jamaica on Sunday and travel near the Cayman Islands on Sunday night or early Monday. Ian then is expected to approach Cuba late Monday and will be spit into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
In a forecast update provided late Friday night, Diane Kacmarik, a meteorologist for Spectrum Bay News 9, said Ian’s turn to the north is expected because of a strong cold front that will approach the southeastern United States.
“That’s the part of the forecast that will be tricky because the exact timing of that north turn will be very difficult to forecast and will ultimately determine which part of Florida has to deal with the storm,” Kacmarik wrote in that update. “You will hear us talk about ‘angle of approach’ the next few days. When storms approach Florida from the south they are very hard to accurately track because even the slightest wobble can cause the storm to impact one area of Florida while completely missing another area.”
She noted that if Ian hits Cuba, that could “disrupt” the storm. But, she said, storms can quickly restrengthen in the Gulf of Mexico, as Hurricane Charley did in 2004 before plowing into Punta Gorda as a Category 4 hurricane.
Hurricane Michael muscled up to a Category 5 hurricane in 2018 before making landfall at Mexico Beach in the Florida Panhandle. The year before, Hurricane Irma had Tampa Bay on edge as it emerged in the Gulf of Mexico; that storm hit parts of the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm and near Marco Island as a Category 3.
Christianne Pearce, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Ruskin, said “it is still hard to tell how (Ian) will impact Tampa Bay,” adding: “When it comes to the cone of uncertainty, the center currently could fall anywhere between Tallahassee and the Keys, so right now we are on watch.”
Ian is the ninth named storm in the Atlantic basin’s 2022 season.
Local governments in the Tampa Bay area urged residents to prepare for the storm’s potential impact.
Workers for various local governments were clearing debris from storm drains in flooding hot spots on Saturday. Officials urged residents to clear their lawns of yard waste, which can clog storm drains during flooding. Other municipalities opened sand bag centers.
There already were reports Saturday of bottled water being in short supply in some areas.
At the Home Depot in Pinellas Park, people were waiting in line when the store opened at 6 a.m. The store had sold 600 cases of water by the early afternoon, said store manager Wendy Macrini. She said the store sold out of generators.
People also were buying up plywood to put over their windows. “It’s been nonstop at this station all day,” said employee Corey Panaker, who was slicing plywood for customers.
“Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” said Matt Beaver of Pinellas Park, who was getting plywood from the store.
Elsewhere in the tropics, Fiona transformed from a hurricane into a post-tropical storm late Friday, knocking out power to more than 500,000 customers in Canada on Saturday, damaging homes with strong winds and rain as it made landfall as a big, powerful post-tropical cyclone.
The fast-moving Fiona made Nova Scotia landfall before dawn Saturday, with its power down from the Category 4 strength it had early Friday when passing by Bermuda, though officials there reported no serious damage.
Two other tropical storms — Gaston and Hermine — were spinning in the Atlantic Saturday morning, but didn’t pose an imminent threat to the United States. Hermine was downgraded to a tropical depression later in the day.
Forecasters also are watching a patch of rough weather several hundred miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands that they give just a 30 percent of strengthening into a tropical depression by the middle of the week.
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.
RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.
DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits
PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.
SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.
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Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.
PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.
PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.