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Tropical Storm Ian strengthened into a hurricane as it churned north toward the Gulf of Mexico. Much of Florida and the entire Tampa Bay area remained in the forecast cone and a hurricane watch was issued for the Tampa Bay area early Monday morning.
Officials urged people to wrap up their preparations. The Tampa Bay area could experience tropical storm-force winds as early as Tuesday afternoon.
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 Saturday.
Here’s the latest on the storm.
SANDBAGS: Where to find sandbags in the Tampa Bay area
Find the latest updates from the Tampa Bay Times beginning Monday morning at 8 a.m. our new live blog here.
The National Hurricane Center in its 5 a.m. Monday advisory said Ian had strengthened into hurricane and was expected to become a major hurricane by the end of the day Monday.
A hurricane watch was issued for the Tampa Bay area. You can read more details here.
The city of Tampa announced early Monday morning that it was opening 16 “out of school camp” sites for students in kindergarten through 12th grade that will be open Monday and Tuesday.
The camp sites are designed to help families after Hillsborough schools officials on Sunday announced that public schools would be closed Monday through Thursday.
The full list of locations can be found here.
Tampa Bay is in the potential path of a catastrophic hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center has shifted Ian’s likely track eastward. The storm could arrive as a major hurricane by Wednesday night.
Forecasters said Ian’s projected path and intensity remain uncertain. But for now, Tampa Bay is in the National Hurricane Center’s 3-day cone.
Local meteorologists were frank in their assessments: “Not good,” wrote Denis Phillips, of ABC Action News, on Twitter.
Said Paul Dellegatto of Fox 13: “I will be candid with you, if this track, at the intensity indicated, verifies, then we are in for a very very rough time.”
But he noted the storm’s forecast could fluctuate. “The one thing that we still have, is considerable distance between us and Ian, which means some additional track adjustments are likely,” Dellegatto wrote late Sunday. “As bad as track looks, we are not at point where it’s an absolute lock.”
Ahead of the much-anticipated 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, local forecasters are urging residents of Tampa Bay to pay attention — and prepare.
“I don’t want to alarm anybody by what I’m about to say,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie late Sunday.
Talking to Mike Boylan, of Mike’s Weather Page, Guthrie proceeded to explain that some models show parts of Florida could see 10 feet or more of storm surge from a potential Hurricane Ian this week.
“We’re getting some data sets that are coming in that are really, really high,” Guthrie said.
The storm’s track remained uncertain, but Guthrie said emergency management officials expected to begin making decisions on evacuations by mid-day Monday.
The University of South Florida has joined other local colleges in canceling classes from Monday through Thursday, with campuses expected to start closing on Tuesday.
USF Health clinical facilities are expected to stay open until Wednesday, according to the university.
The University of Tampa is closing classes starting Monday. It plans to resume “full campus operations” in a week.
“The Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center may call for an evacuation, starting as early as tomorrow afternoon,” the university announced late Sunday. “If so, the institution will begin evacuating the campus, including the residence halls, at that time.
Eckerd College is also canceling classes and telling students who live in on-campus residence halls to leave by 3 p.m. Monday.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch declared a local state of emergency for the city.
Officials urged residents to prepare their storm plans. The city expected to reopen sandbag locations at 8 a.m. Monday. All municipal services would remain open as regularly scheduled “until further notice,” St. Petersburg police spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez wrote in an email.
The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System has announced several closures from Port Charlotte to Pinellas County. See details in the tweet thread linked below.
Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough school district officials on Sunday announced plans to close schools this week due to what is expected to be Hurricane Ian.
Three Pinellas schools will close early Monday as the school district prepares special needs shelters in advance of Tropical Storm Ian. Palm Harbor University High, Dunedin Highland Middle and John Hopkins Middle schools will release students at 12:30 p.m. to make way for the activity. The rest of the district will remain open all day Monday, but will cancel after-school activities.
All Pinellas schools will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Hillsborough schools will be closed Monday through Thursday.
“County emergency officials will activate many of our schools as storm shelters beginning Monday,” the Hillsborough School District said in a tweet sent at 5:40 p.m. “Because of this, our district has no choice but to close schools Sept. 26 - Sept 29.”
Pasco schools and offices will be open on Monday and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Read more on school closure plans here.
Hillsborough also will close all county offices and facilities Monday to allow staff to focus on the emergency response to Ian. The closure includes all county libraries, parks, preserves and recreation centers.
All Hillsborough public meetings have also been postponed. The Veterans Memorial Park open house scheduled for Tuesday has also been postponed and will be rescheduled.
Hillsborough’s Solid Waste Services Department will continue normal collection operations as scheduled and all solid waste facilities will remain open on Monday.
The Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory showed little change to Ian’s forecast track and the storm was still expected to affect the Tampa Bay area by Wednesday, according to Spectrum Bay News 9.
Pinellas County officials are asking all visitors to “proactively evacuate” ahead of what is expected to be Hurricane Ian and will open two emergency shelters for county residents on Monday.
In a news release Sunday afternoon, county officials encouraged visitors to “proactively evacuate as a precautionary measure.”
“While the future path is still uncertain, major flooding and wind damage is expected in Pinellas County,” the release said.
Officials urged residents to finalize their sheltering plans soon, “whether it is in their non-evacuation zone home, in a hotel, or with a friend or family member.”
The county will open two general population emergency shelters for county residents at 6 p.m. on Monday. They are located at Ross Norton Recreation Center, 1426 S M.L.K. Jr. Ave. in Clearwater; and at Lealman Exchange, 5175 45th St N in St. Petersburg.
The county expects to open additional shelters by Tuesday morning. Residents with special needs who require transportation to a safe location until the storm threat passes can still sign up by calling the County Information Center at 727-464-4333. For more information, go to pinellascounty.org
At a news conference Sunday, Hillsborough County emergency management director Timothy Dudley Jr. said officials there would be making decisions about shelters and evacuation orders soon.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of being prepared over the next several hours as the models of the storm solidify,” Dudley said. “We are anticipating making decisions regarding evacuations and shelter openness and both may be required.”
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister urged residents to heed any evacuation orders.
“You don’t want to be that family or that individual who calls for help and first responders can’t get to you,” Chronister said.
Computer models on Sunday afternoon were showing Ian’s potential path shifting slightly back to the east, closer to the west coast of Florida, according to Spectrum Bay News 9.
Forecasters are warning that even slight shifts toward the west coast would likely mean more dangerous effects in the Tampa Bay area from wind and storm surge.
Ian could be a major hurricane before moving over or near the western tip of Cuba on Tuesday, then the storm is forecast to turn northeast sometime Tuesday into Wednesday, according to Bay News 9.
When big, dangerous storms make landfall, The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore is often on location, fighting against the wind and rain. So it may not be a great sign that he’s in Tampa Bay, along with two other reporters from The Weather Channel.
Citing a graphic shown on The Weather Channel on Sunday morning, the Fort Myers News-Press reported that Cantore will be reporting from Clearwater Beach along with his colleagues Paul Goodloe and Charles Peek.
A day earlier, Tampa Bay’s own famous weather nerd offered Cantore a place to park if it came to that.
Mike Boylan of Oldsmar runs the website Mikes Weather Page and associated social media page, sharing spaghetti models and other forecasts for major storms like Ian.
“If the storm comes here I got VIP parking for you @jimcantore and @icyclone!!!” Boylan tweeted, tagging Cantore and Josh Morgerman, a field correspondent for WeatherNation.
Cantore responded to Boylan just after 2 p.m. Sunday.
“Oh boy here we go!!!” Cantore tweeted.
Cantore’s location could change based on the path of the storm. As of the National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. update, the Tampa Bay area was still within the cone of uncertainty.
At a late morning news conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned of what are expected to be broad-reaching effects from Ian. He encouraged Floridians to prepare for heavy rains, high winds and storm surge, making sure they had necessary food, water, medication and gas.
“Make preparations now,” DeSantis said.
Residents across Tampa Bay were heading to get sandbags ahead of Ian.
One of them was Conor Hoffman, and he was tired. He’d been been out shoveling bags of sand since 9:30 a.m. Sunday at MacFarlane Park on North MacDill Avenue, one of the city of Tampa’s three sandbag sites. He’d shoveled more than 100 bags — and all on the promise of a donut, maybe two.
Conor is 6. His favorite donut has vanilla icing with sprinkles. It would be his reward for helping his mom Stephanie Billingham shovel sand in preparation for potential Hurricane Ian. They were two of roughly 20 volunteers at the park shoveling sand for a long line of cars snaking around the block.
But 6-year-olds aren’t going to be shoveling sand all day. By about noon, he was making his own mound of sand as if enjoying a day at the beach.
”I’m taking a break,” Conor told his mom.
”You’ve been taking a break for 35 minutes,” Billingham joked back while she kept shoveling sand.
A few bags later and Billingham turned back to her son.
”Conor, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to pack your lunch tomorrow. My arms are tired. You might have to pack it yourself,” she said.
So Conor started shoveling again.
Earlier in the day, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor tweeted a video from the MacFarlane Park, 1700 N MacDill Ave, urging residents to get ready.
“The trajectory is changing as time goes by, but we have to prepare and control those elements we can before Ian gets here, so make sure you’re taking care of what you need to do,” Castor said.
Here is a list of other sandbag sites in the Tampa Bay area.
A little later on Sunday, Marolda Cameron stood tantalizingly close to the front of the line for sand bags at the South Tampa YMCA.
Cameron had a shovel in her red cart and after two-and-half-hours of waiting it was finally her turn. She’s lived in South Tampa for about six years and this storm is making her more nervous because of the potential for storm surge. She’d been waiting to have lunch the whole time. A woman near her in line said she had to go to the bathroom for more than an hour but didn’t want to get out of line.
To kill the time, Cameron and the people near her all got to know each other. It turned out many of them lived nearby.
All of them were taking current Tropical Storm Ian with caution.
”People have been through COVID-19,” Cunningham said. “People are taking warnings a little bit more seriously.”
Joe Orsini was only about halfway through the line and he’d been there for an hour.
Orsini, who has lived in Tampa for 14 years, thought people were taking this storm more seriously than some in prior years, especially with South Tampa so susceptible to flooding. Even daily thunderstorms flood roads in the area.
Orsini said he’s worried about flooding pooling up in his driveway or even his door. For now, it’s unclear how much the sandbags will help.
There weren’t big changes in Ian’s forecast track in the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. update and the storms projected path remained uncertain.
Shoppers at the Walmart Supercenter at 1505 N. Dale Mabry in Tampa were stocking up on supplies and clearing out the store of its bottled water. A store employee said the store had 20 pallets of water, with 48 cases per pallet, and shortly after 11 a.m. the last case was gone.
The storm preparation didn’t feel real for Kevin Ensor, at least not yet.
Ensor, 22 had picked up two of the store’s last cases of water and then stood in a line that never seemed to slow. This could be his first hurricane — he moved to Tampa in June after graduating from the University of Kentucky. He’s seen tornadoes, but never a storm with the kind of major effects that Ian could unleash.
Ensor doesn’t yet know what to expect. He initially went out to run an errand for the 10-gallon aquarium he has at home. But he said some more experienced storm veterans told him he should have water, so he bought two cases.
Workers said Sunday has been the most hectic day of shopping, but said this is normal when a storm is approaching.
For shoppers who have lived in Tampa for years, decades even, this felt like just another storm. One shopper said they just wanted to make sure they had beer. Another said he was shopping for water because his girlfriend asked him to. He had looked first in Target across the street. It had no water. And he was among the first customers to miss out on the final cases at Walmart.
Workers don’t know when the next shipment of water is coming.
The Walmart has a gas station not far from the store’s front doors. A man had just arrived with a new supply of gas for the station. He said his truck carries about 9,000 gallons, and he expects it to be gone by the end of the day.
Meteorologists from the Tampa Bay area posted their latest thinking on social media after the 8 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.
Kevin Gutherie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, gave an update to CNN on evacuation protocols.
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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.
• • •
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.