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Hurricane Ian intensifies, Tampa Bay still in its sights

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the Tampa Bay area Monday evening.
The 11 p.m. Monday update from the National Hurricane Center for Hurricane Ian tracks it as hitting Florida's Gulf Coast just north of Tampa Bay.
The 11 p.m. Monday update from the National Hurricane Center for Hurricane Ian tracks it as hitting Florida's Gulf Coast just north of Tampa Bay. [ National Hurricane Center ]
Published Sep. 26|Updated Sep. 27

After intensifying overnight into a hurricane, Ian continued to get stronger and more organized, the National Hurricane Center said in its 11 p.m. update, and forecasters expect the storm will be a major hurricane overnight or early Tuesday.

Hours after the hurricane center upgraded the hurricane watch and storm surge watch issued for Tampa Bay to a hurricane warning and a storm surge warning, Tampa Bay remained firmly in the storm’s forecast cone in the 11 p.m. update from the hurricane center.

Related: Monday live updates: Hurricane Ian headed toward Tampa Bay, evacuations ordered

Forecasters said there still was uncertainty about Ian’s path, which tracks slightly east in the latest projection. But the system still is expected to be a major hurricane when it reaches the west coast of Florida.

Hurricane Ian was about 105 miles east-southeast of the western tip of Cuba, according to the 11 p.m. update. The storm was moving north-northwest at about 13 mph and had sustained winds near 105 mph, with higher gusts.

Ian is expected to briefly travel over western Cuba Monday night or early Tuesday, then move over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico — rapidly intensifying in the next 24-36 hours to become a Category 4 storm, the hurricane center said.

The system will begin to weaken a bit after that, but forecasters said Ian is expected to remain at or near major hurricane strength as it passes to the west of the Florida Keys before heading to Florida’s west coast, including the Tampa Bay area, Wednesday and into Thursday.

The hurricane center update says data shows Ian will slow considerably as it approaches Florida’s west coast, bringing longer bouts of rainfall, wind and storm surge with it.

The hurricane warning covered Englewood to the Anclote River, which includes all of the Tampa Bay area. The hurricane center said west central Florida could have significant flooding, and a storm surge warning is in effect for Tampa Bay and the Anclote River area, stretching south to Flamingo.

A hurricane warning is issued when conditions are expected within the given area within 24 to 36 hours. Forecasters urged residents to quickly complete preparations to protect their lives and their property.

According to the 11 p.m. update, much of Florida’s west coast — from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region — is at risk of a “life-threatening storm surge.”

Heavy rain from Ian will ramp up across the Florida Keys and South Florida Tuesday, moving up to central and Northern Florida Wednesday and Thursday, potentially causing flash, urban and small stream flooding, the hurricane center said. Ian could dump 6 to 12 inches of rain on portions of central west Florida, according to the 11 p.m. update.

Tampa Bay could be hit with a storm surge between 5 to 10 feet, said Jamie Rhome, the acting National Hurricane Center director, in a video posted late Monday morning.

The large range of predicted surge is because forecasters are still uncertain where Ian’s center will be when the storm passes by Tampa Bay. If Ian’s center stays more offshore, then Tampa Bay could see a storm surge around 5 feet, but if Ian moves closer to shore we could see an astounding 10-foot storm surge, according to Rhome.

“I want to end on this, unless you’re behind me in this building, you’re not a hurricane expert. If emergency managers order you to leave, then you need to do so, without question and without delay,” Rhome said.

The National Hurricane Center's graphic shows possible storm surges on the west coast of Florida. Tampa Bay has the protentional to see devastating storm surges up to 10 feet, according to the hurricane center.
The National Hurricane Center's graphic shows possible storm surges on the west coast of Florida. Tampa Bay has the protentional to see devastating storm surges up to 10 feet, according to the hurricane center. [ The National Hurricane Center ]

In addition to the Tampa Bay area, a hurricane warning also was in effect for Dry Tortugas and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa.

A hurricane watch was issued for the area north of the Anclote River to the Suwannee River, and for Bonita Beach to Englewood.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Havana, Mayabeque and Matanzas, as well as for the lower Florida Keys — from the Seven Mile Bridge westward to Key West — and from Flamingo to Englewood.

The hurricane center issued a tropical storm watch for the area north of the Anclote River to Indian Pass, Jupiter Inlet to Altamaha Sound, Lake Okeechobee and for the Florida Keys, from Seven Mile Bridge to the Channel 5 Bridge.

The hurricane center said Ian could bring hurricane-force winds, big storm surges, flash flooding and possible mudslides to parts of western Cuba starting Monday night.

Spectrum Bay News 9 forecasters said Ian could slow down around the time it is parallel to the west coast of Florida. The unfavorable scenario would mean Tampa Bay would feel hurricane conditions for a longer period of time, according to Josh Linker, a Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist.

Tropical storm conditions could begin as early as Wednesday morning south of Tampa Bay and last through Thursday evening north of Tampa Bay, Linker wrote in an update posted about 5:45 a.m.

Spectrum Bay News 9's forecast shows Hurricane Ian's expected path and force as it heads toward the coast of Tampa Bay.
Spectrum Bay News 9's forecast shows Hurricane Ian's expected path and force as it heads toward the coast of Tampa Bay. [ Spectrum Bay News 9 ]

Another problem, Linker said, is that if Ian slows, some areas could see more than 10 inches of rain.

“With an already saturated ground and rivers near flood stage from summer rainy season, fresh water flooding may be a problem,” Linker said.

Tampa Bay began its storm preparations this past weekend amid warnings from officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, President Joe Biden and local leaders.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all of Florida’s 67 counties on Saturday. Biden also declared an emergency for the state, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Pinellas officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents who live in Zone A, starting at 6 p.m. Monday. Residents in zones B and C will be under a mandatory evacuation order starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Hillsborough County is ordering a mandatory evacuation zone for residents in Zone A and is recommending a voluntary evacuation for Zone B. Hillsborough residents can find their evacuation zones here.

Tampa Bay area governments opened sandbag locations over the weekend.

Local colleges and schools began announcing closures Sunday. Hillsborough county public schools are closed through Thursday. Pinellas and Pasco public school districts will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday in anticipation of Hurricane Ian. The Bay Pines VA Healthcare system also announced several closures, from Port Charlotte to Pinellas County.

• • •

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.

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