Tropical Storm Ian intensifying, Florida monitor unsure

Tropical Storm Ian is expected to experience “rapid intensification” today, become a major hurricane in the next 48 hours, and eventually hit Florida — but many questions remain, including when, where and how severe the storm will be at the time the landing will be.

In its 5 a.m. Sunday update, the National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Ian had maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour. The storm was located about 345 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and moving west-northwest at 12 miles per hour. A hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman and a hurricane warning is in place for parts of Cuba.

“The NHC intensity forecast calls for rapid intensification to begin later today and forecasts Ian to be a major hurricane as it approaches western Cuba in approximately 48 hours,” the NHC said in its early Sunday update. The storm is expected to become a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 mph by Tuesday and a Category 4 with winds of 140 mph on Wednesday.

Computer prediction models agree Ian will reach Florida but disagree on where. “There is still significant disparity as to the precise track of the storm, particularly at 72 hours,” the NHC warned.

Two models, UKMET and ECMWF, show the storm will make landfall in west-central Florida. Two other models, the JRC and HWRF, show the storm moving further west, putting Ian in the central or west Florida panhandle.

The hurricane center’s current forecast track for the storm basically splits the difference between the various models with the NHC’s best estimate. “It cannot be overstated that Ian’s long-range prediction still has significant uncertainties,” the NHC warned.

“Regardless of Ian’s exact course and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surges, gale force winds and torrential downpours along Florida’s west coast and the Florida Panhandle through mid-week and Florida residents should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, and are heeding all advice from local officials and closely monitor forecast updates,” the hurricane center said.

Across central Florida, residents spent part of the weekend preparing for Ian’s possible arrival.

A Target store near Millenia was down to just a few gallon bottles of water Saturday as signs on the shelves limited purchases to four cases or bottles per customer.

5 am update | Uncertainty in TS Ian’s long-term distance and intensity forecast is higher than usual. Direct impacts on E central FL remain uncertain, but windy conditions and heavy rains are a possibility through the middle of next week. Continue to monitor the forecast for updates. pic.twitter.com/e9uA7j42D9

— NWS Melbourne (@NWSMelbourne) September 25, 2022

“This is the third store I visited today,” said Maritza Osorio, who left Target for a fourth location. “If not, we’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

There was less foot traffic through a Home Depot in the same plaza, and many people carried water in their carts while others bought sheets of plywood to be used as shutters and other items.

The National Hurricane Center's key messages for Tropical Storm Ian and its impact on Florida and elsewhere.

While it’s not yet clear if or how hard Ian will hit if he hits central Florida, the likes of Gary Wilson aren’t taking chances. He had his hurricane kit ready with supplies weeks into the start of the season and was at Home Depot for final preparations, just in case.

“If anything happens, I’m ready,” Wilson said.

On Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency order for the entire Sunshine State — an extension of an order he issued Friday that declared an emergency in two dozen counties. DeSantis also mobilized the National Guard to help with storm preparation and recovery.

Earliest reasonable arrival of tropical gale force winds from Ian.

“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to take their preparedness,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track any potential impact from this storm.”

President Joe Biden also declared a state of emergency for the state and authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance to protect life and property.

The President postponed a scheduled trip to Orlando on September 27 because of the storm.

Cristóbal Reyes of Sentinel and Associated Press contributed to this report

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