Editor’s note: Our Tuesday update is now live. Go here for the latest updates.
As updates rolled in from the National Hurricane Center Monday, Tampa Bay residents grappled with the growing likelihood of an unpleasant reality. Hurricane Ian, a storm that is expected to quickly strengthen to a major hurricane, is coming.
The National Hurricane Center on Monday evening placed Tampa Bay under a hurricane warning and a storm surge warning, which means hurricane conditions are expected to effect the area in the next 24 to 36 hours. Tampa Bay remained firmly in the storm’s forecast cone as of the last update at 5 p.m.
Although uncertainty looms, there is a serious risk the Tampa Bay area and other parts of the Gulf Coast could see life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall soon. Throughout the day Monday, officials urged the region to take advantage of the last full day to prepare and heed evacuation orders.
- Hillsborough County is ordering a mandatory evacuation for residents on Zone A and is recommending a voluntary evacuation for Zone B.
- Pinellas County has issued a mandatory evacuation order for Zone A beginning at 6 p.m. Residents living in Zones B and C will have the same order go into effect on Tuesday at 7 a.m. The order follows a press conference on Monday morning during which officials warned “get out right now.”
- Pasco County announced evacuations in zones A, B and C, which includes everyone west of U.S. 19 and some neighborhoods to the east. Read more here.
- MacDill Air Force Base’s commander, Col. Adam Bingham, issued an installation-wide mandatory evacuation to be completed by Tuesday at noon for non-mission essential individuals.
- Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties on Sunday announced planned school closures this week, as did local colleges and universities. Read more about the closings here. A complete list of state closures can be found here.
- Federal court in Tampa and state court in Hillsborough will be closed Tuesday through Thursday.
- Tampa International Airport will close Tuesday, and commercial flights will stop at 5 p.m. The airport will reopen once it can safely assess damage, survey road conditions and bring in staff.
- St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport will close Tuesday. Its last flight out will depart Tuesday at 11:22 a.m. It will remain closed until Pinellas County lifts its Zone A evacuation order, which goes into effect at 6 p.m. tonight.
- WestShore Plaza will be closed Tuesday so that the mall can prepare for the storm. Updates will be posted on WestShore Plaza’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, officials said.
- City of Tampa government offices will be closed starting Tuesday, September 27, 2022, until further notice. The Emergency Operations Center has also been fully activated, a release stated.
- Port Tampa Bay is closing its waterways as it’s changed its port condition to “Yankee,” indicating gale-force winds of up to 54 miles per hour within the next 24 hours.
- Pinellas County barrier islands will be restricted to residents and business-owners beginning 7 a.m. on Tuesday.
More updates on the storm are below.
SANDBAGS: Where to find sandbags in the Tampa Bay area
The 8 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center was the latest piece of bad news for the Tampa Bay region.
Ian was a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour as of 8 p.m. eastern, according to the Hurricane Center. It was expected to continue gaining strength, and form into a major hurricane sometime Monday or Tuesday.
The most likely scenario modeled by the Hurricane Center had Ian hitting the Tampa Bay region as a major hurricane Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. It’s expected to slow considerably, battering the west coast of Florida throughout Thursday, before weakening, and heading due north.
Hospitals across the Tampa Bay region mobilized on Monday, with several canceling non emergency procedures, and others relocating patients.
For example, a fleet of five helicopters flew multiple trips ferrying about 40 patients from HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital on Monday afternoon.
Some nursing homes followed suit: older adults with more high-risk medical conditions were taken to hospitals while other residents were sent to sister facilities inland.
Read our story about the day of preparation here.
As people around the Tampa Bay region prepare to evacuate, there are steps you can take to help protect your property.
To learn about how to safeguard your home ahead of a hurricane, click here.
Pinellas deputies will be restricting access to the Pinellas County barrier islands beginning at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday in preparation for Hurricane Ian.
“Only residents or citizens with legitimate business will be allowed access. The restricted access will continue until the storm passes the Pinellas County area,” a county-issued alert stated.
More information can be found here.
Tampa Electric Co. may cut power to parts of downtown Tampa early Wednesday as Hurricane Ian approaches the area.
In a statement, the company said that “as conditions warrant,” it may cut service to an evacuated Zone A area in order to avoid damage to underground equipment and “significantly shorten restoration time after the storm.”
The affected area will include Harbour Island, most of Davis Islands and two Channelside-area hotels.”Hurricane Ian is a large and unpredictable storm,” Tampa Electric president Archie Collins said in a statement.
“While the path remains uncertain, we anticipate significant storm surge, and I encourage our customers to prepare for extended power outages.”
The company said it was bringing in outside crews from other utilities to help restore power in Tampa Bay. Customers with outages are encouraged to report them at tampaelectric.com/outage, text OUT to 27079 or call (877) 588-1010.
Uber announced on Monday night that it will be offering free rides up to $30 in value, to and from evacuation shelters in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Pasco County. Each rider can receive a total of two trips.
Steps to activate the offer are as follows, according to a company release:
1. Open your app
2. Tap “Account” on the bottom right
3. Tap Wallet
4. Scroll down to “+ Add Promo Code”
5. Enter code IANRELIEF
The list of approved shelters can be found here.
Starting Tuesday, the city of Tampa will close its offices until further notice as Hurricane Ian takes aim at Florida, the city announced.
Essential city staff will assist with preparations for the storm and will conduct post-hurricane assessments.Solid waste collection for homes and businesses will continue until noon Tuesday.
Only blue city garbage carts will be collected. Recyclable and yard waste collection will resume after the storm.
From 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, the city’s “out of school camp” locations for families affected by the closing of Hillsborough County schools will be open to students between kindergarten and 12th grade.
More information on the eligibility requirements for the camp locations can be found here.Updates on the city’s operations will be shared on social media and residents can also sign up for text alerts.
News Service Florida reported that Duke Energy Florida has about 9,000 workers on standby in anticipation of the storm. The report stated that among those on call will be line workers, vegetation-management crews and damage assessors.
Resources are coming from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey and Delaware, the news service reported.
According to News Service Florida, “a Duke news release said the company has invested in grid automation and ‘self-healing technology’ that can detect and reroute power to reduce the number of customers affected by outages, ‘similar to GPS rerouting traffic around an accident.’”
An update from the National Hurricane Center shows that as of 5 p.m.,Hurricane Ian is about 155 miles off of the western tip of Cuba, with winds reaching 100 mph.
Tampa Bay is now under a storm surge warning, and has moved from a hurricane watch to a hurricane warning, which means that hurricane conditions are expected in the next 24 to 36 hours according to the National Hurricane Center.
The NHC predicts that the storm will slow down considerably as it reaches Tampa Bay, meaning the storm could hang over the region through Thursday. The longer the storm is landfall, the more damage can be anticipated as rainfall increases and water levels rise.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is suspending all collection of fares, effective at 6 p.m. tonight, according to agency spokesperson Stephanie Rank. The suspension will continue until further notice and will include all PSTA services, including PSTA Access, Jolley Trolley and the Looper, Rank said.
The Florida Department of Health is asking those who know or care for a person with a disability or special need to register with the Florida Special Needs Registry. That way, the state can help connect those with emergency needs to providers and special needs shelters.
Jeff Masters, a meteorologist for Yale Climate Connections and former Hurricane Hunter, told the Times that Tampa Bay could see 5 to 10 feet of storm surge and 10 inches or more of rain from Hurricane Ian.
“When I look at this storm I feel like I felt when Andrew was approaching Miami and when Katrina was approaching New Orleans,” Masters said. “We have a potential historic catastrophe in the making.”
Ian is forecast to slow down, potentially unleashing stiff winds and flooding on the area for many hours.
“You’re talking about a storm surge lasting multiple high tide cycles,” Masters said.
The hurricane could approach Wednesday night into Thursday morning. The timing would be critical.
A high tide is expected to hit St. Petersburg before dawn Thursday, potentially offering nearly 3 feet more water to a surge than if the storm hit later around low tide.
“There’s a high tide Thursday morning at 3 to 4 a.m. in St. Pete,” said Mark Luther, an oceanography professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science. “High tide up in downtown Tampa, port of Tampa is about two hours later, high tide out at Egmont (Key) or the beaches is about two hours earlier.”
Luther said a lower tide will hit about 11 a.m. Thursday.
There is a chance the region could see a lesser surge, if Ian veers into the coast well south or stays many miles offshore. But if the storm passes within about 100 miles west of the bay, Masters said, people should expect damage.
“You could still very well get lucky from this one,” he said. But he wouldn’t bank on it. “If I had the means to get out of Tampa, I would leave today.”
What storm comes to mind for Jamie Rhome when you ask him about Hurricane Ian?
The 1921 hurricane that tore up the region. Most people here have not lived through something like they’re about to experience, he said.
The people of Tampa Bay have to stop obsessing over Hurricane Ian’s forecast cone, said Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, in a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Monday.
“At some point, people have got to stop hoping it’s going to go away and go ahead and start doing what’s necessary to protect themselves and their property,” he said.
No matter where the storm goes, he said, the region will feel some of the storm’s force.
Rhome is a storm surge specialist, and Tampa Bay is one of America’s most vulnerable coastlines to hurricane flooding. The Times previously worked with him and a National Hurricane Center colleague to model the risks of tropical storms, as part of a series called “Rising Threat.”
They found tremendous risk: About 1 out of every 5 built properties in Pinellas County is at risk of flooding in Category 1 hurricanes. Tampa is not much better — 1 in 9 could see flooding from the same level of storms.
Tropical Storm Eta surprised parts of the area in November 2020, pushing several feet of storm surge into waterfront neighborhoods.
Ian threatens to more than double that surge, with the National Hurricane Center warning of 5 to 10 feet in Tampa Bay. The storm is projected to slow down in the Gulf of Mexico, which Rhome said is particularly dangerous.
“It increases the chance for surge to pile up in the bay,” he said. “It increases the risk of heavy rainfall.”
Ian could bring catastrophic — and life-threatening — flooding by midweek.
“I’ve got family in one of the evacuation zones ordered,” Rhome said. “They’re evacuating.”
About bridge closures:
- Sunshine Skyway will close as soon “when wind speeds top 40 mph or more and remain sustained,” FDOT regional spokesperson Kris Carson wrote in an email.
- The Courtney Campbell Causeway, Gandy and Howard Frankland bridges are monitored by FDOT and law enforcement and will close if the bridge approaches are covered by water,” Carson wrote.
The Florida Department of Corrections is preparing extra food and water for inmates housed in prisons in Ian’s path, according to a press release from the department.
Evacuations will be considered on a “case-by-case basis,” according to the release. If a facility is evacuated, an inmate’s new location will be posted online within about 24 hours of relocation.
People on community supervision will be given instructions from their probation officers about how to handle evacuations, if they are necessary.
The department will issue updates on visitation and closures on their social media accounts and through text alerts. To receive text alerts, people can text “FDCVisit” to 888777.
Staying in a Tampa Bay area shelter? Here’s what Pinellas County officials want you to know:
“Public shelters do not have cots or generators, and the space you will be able to utilize is limited...prepare by bringing: one-person air mattress, books and activities, a fan, earplugs, covering for your eyes for sleeping, other hygiene, comfort items and medications.”
Filed under “yikes”: a hurricane scientist and a meteorologist predict Tampa Bay could see its worst storm surge in modern history.
Pinellas County officials announced on Twitter that all residents in Evacuation Zone A will be under mandatory evacuation orders beginning at 6 p.m.
Evacuation Zones B and C will have mandatory evacuation orders go into effect Tuesday at 7 a.m.
Residential health care facilities will also be under mandatory evacuation orders according to the account.
Effective 6 p.m. today, all residents in Evacuation Zone A (including all mobile home residents) will be under mandatory evacuation orders. Mandatory orders for evacuation zones B and C will be effective tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/36ayoOEMIz— Pinellas County (@PinellasCoNews) September 26, 2022
During a news conference Monday, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor called Hurricane Ian an “incredible storm.”
“This is going to be a storm like we have not seen in the past,” she said, noting that the region is already saturated from rainfall.
When asked if Hillsborough County’s voluntary evacuation order for Zone B will expand to a mandatory order Monday or Tuesday, Castor said “it’s a possibility.”
Storm surge is a particular concern, said Castor, adding that new residents should heed the warning.
The mayor said she hasn’t spoken with Gov. Ron DeSantis about the storm, but she has talked with Sen. Rick Scott and Gabe Amo, special assistant to President Joe Biden, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The city has been draining some storm water retention ponds to prepare, said Castor, who spoke with reporters at the Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex.
Tampa is also offering sandbags to residents at three locations, and the lines are growing, said city parks and recreation director Sherisha Hills. The city will expand its hours and provide sandbags until 8 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. Monday.
An update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Hurricane Ian is continuing to intensify.
A hurricane watch, which means that hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours, is in place for Tampa Bay. A storm surge watch also remains in effect.
“The center of Ian is expected to move near or over western Cuba tonight and early Tuesday,” according to the update from NHC. The storm is expected to reach the west coast of Florida on Wednesday and continue into Thursday.
Current winds have reached approximately 85 mph, the release stated. The storm is expected to become a major hurricane by early Tuesday morning.
A major factor that could affect how bad Ian proves to be for Tampa Bay’s coastal areas: the time of day it hits.
The National Hurricane Center currently predicts Ian will arrive in the Tampa Bay region Tuesday night around 8 p.m. High tide is set for 4:59 p.m. that day; low tide at 10:34 p.m. The lower the tide, the less storm surge we’re likely to see.
A number of Tampa Bay nursing homes in FEMA flood hazard zones are preparing to evacuate residents as Hurricane Ian barrels toward Florida.
Some, like St. Petersburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, are evacuating this afternoon. Older adults with more high-risk medical conditions are headed to hospitals; the rest will travel to sister facilities inland. Other long-term care homes in high-risk areas plan to evacuate tomorrow.
The best way to determine the emergency plan at a loved one’s facility is to call the home directly.
All Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities had working backup generators as-of the date of their last inspection, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration’s Generator Status Report. Eight of these facilities are not in full compliance with generator requirements, however; four are in the Tampa Bay area.
“We’re not worried about having power,” said Maria Beznes, administrator of St. Petersburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “We’re worried about flooding.”
As much of the west coast of Florida and Tampa Bay area braces for high winds and storm surge from the approaching storm, Tampa International Airport remained operational Monday as it made its own preparations, airport officials said.
The airport may begin shutting down parts of its airfield and facilities in the next 24 to 48 hours as expected Hurricane Ian impacts and wind speeds increase and weather becomes more severe.
At 40 mph sustained winds, TPA will see minimal activity, with the airside shuttles and SkyConnect stopping or reducing in frequency.
At 50 mph sustained winds, all airport operations stop.
While TPA is in an evacuation zone, as critical infrastructure, the airport is exempt from the storm evacuation order and will stay open until a closure is necessary.
“The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which operates TPA and three general aviation airports, remains in close coordination with the National Weather Service, our airlines and other airport partners, and will give travelers and the community as much notice as possible when that determination is made,” a statement from the airport said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday said he suspended tolls for Tampa Bay and warned Floridians to prepare for major storm surge and flooding as Hurricane Ian churns toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Ian could become a Category 4 storm as it enters the Gulf, and even eastern parts of Florida should brace for impacts, he said.
“This is a really, really big hurricane at this point,” he said. “The storm surge is likely to be significant given how big the storm is.”
DeSantis encouraged Floridians to “remain calm” and not “panic buy” gasoline and other supplies.
Read the story here.
As he’s been glued to the tracking updates for Hurricane Ian, Oldsmar Mayor Dan Saracki’s mind has been on the Hurricane of 1921.
A century ago, that storm brought surge of about 11 feet to the area, inundating neighborhoods in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
”It wiped out our city,” Saracki said. “The bank building in downtown was the only building left.”
On Monday, Pinellas County Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins warned of 6 to 10 feet of storm surge possible for Oldsmar and gulf beaches.
”This is like a wall of water coming in and it will come in very rapidly, very powerfully,” Perkins said. “This could push houses off of their foundation.”
Saracki said he expects Pinellas County to issue mandatory evacuation order, but he is encouraging residents to take precautions earlier than the mandate because of Oldsmar’s vulnerability.
”I’m really, really concerned for our residents,” Saracki said. “I just hope and pray that everyone is safe and no one gets hurt.”
Port Tampa Bay is closing its waterways as it’s changed its port condition to “Yankee,” indicating gale-force winds of up to 54 miles per hour within the next 24 hours.
In a statement, the port said it’s securing its docks and other waterfront areas, removing hazardous materials and debris that could become airborne in the event of a heavy storm. Ships larger than 500 tons are prohibited from entering the port, and those in Tampa are queuing up to depart. And the port is preparing its underwater sonar scanning systems for possible use by the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Ian passes.
“Yankee” is the second-to-highest cautionary port condition. Next up is “Zulu,” indicating gale-force winds within 12 hours.
Courthouses in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which comprises Pinellas and Pasco counties, will be closed Tuesday through Thursday due to Hurricane Ian, officials announced Monday.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has cancelled all transit service indefinitely beginning Wednesday.
Bus service will end at the end of the day Tuesday, or until tropical storm-force winds are sustained at 40 mph, a PSTA spokesperson said.
PSTA is currently providing free service to shelters. The last free service to shelters is midnight on Tuesday, unless tropical storm-force winds reach sustained speeds of 40 mph before then.
For more information, PSTA’s website is here.
A mandatory evacuation order for at least some zones in Pinellas County is expected to come by Tuesday, officials said at a Monday morning news conference. But they urged visitors and anyone else planning to leave to do it today.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri put his directive in no uncertain terms:
“For all practical purposes, get out right now.”
Read our story here.
Pinellas residents can find their evacuation zones here.
Hillsborough County is ordering a mandatory evacuation for residents on Zone A and is recommending a voluntary evacuation for Zone B.
The evacuation order applies to all mobile and manufactured homes. It takes effect 2 p.m. Monday.
The county expect to have to evacuates up to 300,000 people.
Hillsborough residents can find their evacuation zones here. The county’s site appeared to be working only intermittently on Monday.
“This is not a drill,” said Hillsborough Emergency Management Director Tim Dudley.
Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise recommended residents to try to find shelter with someone who lives at least 20 miles inland.
Shelters, Wise said, “are not comfortable places. They could be noisy. They could be crowded.”
“Please heed the warning,” said Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.
Chronister said the Sheriff’s Office consulted with court officials and have suspended enforcement of residential eviction notices.
Read our story on Hillsborough evacuations here.
MacDill Air Force Base’s commander, Col. Adam Bingham, issued an installation-wide mandatory evacuation to be completed by Tuesday at noon for non-mission essential individuals. That includes uniformed service members and their dependents and civilian employees and their dependents assigned to MacDill Air Force Base who live in Hillsborough County Evacuation Zone A.
A city of Tampa information center will go live at noon. The telephone number is 1-888-872-4636. A similar call center in Hillsborough can be reached at 833-427-8676.
Models continued to show Ian reaching major hurricane strength as it moved north into the Gulf of Mexico and toward the Tampa Bay region. But forecasters like Spectrum Bay News 9′s Brian McClure stressed that even a slight “wobble” in the storm’s path could make a big difference in the effects felt here.
Pinellas and Hillsborough officials planned to hold news briefings in their respective counties at 10 a.m. Monday. Evacuation orders for at least some zones could be made at that time.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to hold a news conference in Tallahassee at 11 a.m.
Look for updates on all three news conferences here.
News of closures ahead of Hurricane Ian continued to come in Monday.
Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties on Sunday announced planned school closures this week. Read more about the closings here.
The city of Tampa on Monday morning announced that it is opening 16 parks and recreation sites as “out of school camp” locations for families affected by the closing of Hillsborough County schools. More on that here.
Hillsborough Community College has cancelled all classes and will close operations from Tuesday through Thursday.
Pasco Hernando State College announced its campuses would be closed Tuesday through Friday.
Hernando County will schools will be closed Tuesday through Friday.
Times staff writers Hannah Critchfield, Olivia George, Lawrence Mower, Tracey McManus, Jay Cridlin, Zachary T. Sampson, Jeffrey S. Solochek, Romy Ellenbogen, Jack Evans, Sam Ogozalek and C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.
• • •
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.