Hurricane Ian made landfall as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm in southwest Florida shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center reported.
By the 11 p.m. update, the Hurricane Center said wind speeds had dropped, and it was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. It remained a hurricane in the 2 a.m. advisory Thursday, but just barely with winds that had diminished to 75 mph.
As of 2 a.m., Ian’s center was about 55 miles south-southeast of Orlando and about 55 miles south-southwest of Cape Canaveral. It was moving northeast at about 9 mph.
The Tampa Bay area remains under a hurricane warning and a storm surge warning. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Similarly, a storm surge warning means dangerous levels of rising water from the coastline are expected.
A hurricane warning is in effect from Chokoloskee to the Anclote River (including Tampa Bay) and Sebastian Inlet to the Flagler and Volusia county line.
Forecasters had warned of life-threatening storm surge along Florida’s west coast, where the highest risk was for the areas around Naples and Fort Myers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said water levels in Naples reached more than 6 feet above normal high tide, already breaking a record set by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
The Tampa Bay area’s peak storm surge forecast has been lowered considerably since Tuesday morning, with an estimated storm surge of 4 to 6 feet.
Forecasters expect Ian’s center to move across Central Florida Thursday morning, then emerge over the western Atlantic by late Thursday. The system was expected to travel north and head toward the east coast of Florida before reaching the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Friday.
The hurricane center predicts the storm will weaken over the next day or so, but still expects it to be near hurricane strength over Florida’s east coast. Hurricane-force winds extend from Ian’s center by about 45 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extend up to 175 miles, according to the 2 a.m. update.
The storm has drawn comparisons to Hurricane Charley, which devastated Charlotte County in 2004. Ian’s size dwarfed Charley’s, as Ian’s area of hurricane force winds were about three times larger than the 2004 storm, according to a tweet from Paul Dellegatto, chief meteorologist at FOX13 in Tampa.
The National Hurricane Center’s acting director, Jamie Rhome, said in an update on Wednesday that people should be cautious and not leave their homes until the storm’s dangers have passed.
“We lose so many people after a storm because they get out and wander about,” Rhome said. “I know you want to see what happened.... Please stay inside until conditions allow you safely move about.”
In Tampa Bay, residents watched as the tide receded in a phenomenon known as a “reverse storm surge.” That’s when storm winds push water out of the bay, according to Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tampa Bay.
Carlisle said the negative tide will likely continue a little longer but that the Tampa Bay area could see the water rushing back later in the day.
The same rare phenomenon happened in 2017, when experts said the negative surge caused by Hurricane Irma was one of the biggest ever.
Heavy rain will fall across Florida through Thursday. Dangerous and widespread, prolonged major flooding is expected, along with record river flooding across Central Florida, according to the Hurricane Center. Considerable flooding also is predicted for northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and eastern South Carolina through the end of the week.
Spectrum Bay News 9 Meteorologist Mike Clay tweeted a photo of the storm surge in Naples Wednesday afternoon.
Hillsborough County ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents in Zones A and B. Pinellas and Pasco counties both issued mandatory evacuations for Zones A, B and C.
Businesses and schools across Tampa Bay have announced closures, including local airports and malls. Some Tampa Bay bridges and roads have closed as Ian approaches.
“For those of you outside of the impacted area please be thinking about those in the impact area, and be ready to lend them support, lend them help in the next couple days,” Rhome said.
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2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE HURRICANE: A school mental health expert says to let them know what’s happening, keep a routine and stay calm.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN A SHELTER: What to bring — and not bring — plus information on pets, keeping it civil and more.
SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.
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.