South Florida remains out of the current tracks for a direct hit from Tropical Storm Ian, but all Floridians should prepare for a major storm, Governor Ron DeSantis said Sunday.
Tropical Storm Ian is expected to strengthen into a hurricane on Sunday and then become the second major hurricane of the season by midweek.
A 2 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center said Ian is forecast to “start to rapidly strengthen” on Sunday night, with significant winds and storm surge expected in western Cuba. The models show a possible direct hit in the Tampa area or the Florida Panhandle.
“Don’t get too attached to those cones,” DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. “Even if you’re not necessarily right in the eye of the storm’s path, there are going to be pretty wide impacts across the state.”
He said there could be heavy flooding on Florida’s east coast. And there’s no guarantee that the storm’s path will continue to move west as it has for the past two days.
“There is uncertainty. The models disagree,” she said. “Just don’t think that if you’re not in that eye, you don’t have to make preparations. The last thing we want is for it to head east quickly and then have people who aren’t ready. It is better to be prepared and not have to use those preparations than the opposite”.
This includes having an adequate supply of food, water, batteries, medicine and fuel, he said.
But most residents won’t need to evacuate, emergency officials said. People must first look floridadisaster.org/know to see if they are in an evacuation zone. If not, they should assess whether their home can withstand tropical storm or hurricane force winds.
“During Hurricane Irma, we evacuated residents at nearly two million people,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
DeSantis said he expected heavy rain, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge and even isolated tornadoes. He has issued a state of emergency for all 67 counties “given the uncertainty of the storm.” Previously, the state of emergency had been issued for only 24 counties, including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.
The state has lifted restrictions on commercial trucks and authorized emergency prescription refills or 30 days. DeSantis said he also activated 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard to help with the emergency.
The center of Ian is expected to pass well southwest of Jamaica on Sunday night, and pass near or west of the Cayman Islands early Monday, based on a 2 pm track forecast. Ian will then move near or over western Cuba on Monday night and early Tuesday and emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
If Ian makes landfall in Cuba, it is expected to do so as a major hurricane (sustained winds of at least 111 mph).
It will then emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
South Florida is outside the forecast cone of uncertainty where the center of a hurricane will be two-thirds of the time, said Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center. But subtle changes in the route can make a big difference, and the warm waters of the Gulf and possible land interaction with Cuba could create those changes.
“This weekend, have all the preparations in place for a worst case scenario,” Bhatti said.
The “reasonable” worst-case scenario at this time still includes all the impacts associated with a major hurricane. But if the storm keeps moving west, South Florida might only see high waves and gusty winds.
As the weekend progresses, the hurricane’s path will become increasingly clear. From Sunday night to Monday morning, forecasters say they’ll have a much better idea of what’s to come and whether South Florida could be spared the brunt of the storm.
What used to be Tropical Storm Hermine on Sunday was still bringing rain to the Canary Islands and is about to become a remnant low, forecasters said.
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What was Hurricane Fiona had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone early Sunday, and the National Hurricane Center was no longer issuing advisories on the storm.
Fiona was the first major hurricane of the 2022 season, that is, Category 3 and above.
Forecasters are also monitoring a wide area of low pressure in the Atlantic that has a 20% chance of developing in the next five days, although Ian is the biggest concern.
“The one to watch is definitely the system moving into the southeastern Caribbean,” said Eric Blake, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Storm Gastón continues to weaken and is expected to become a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday.
Hurricane season ends on November 30. The next named storm after Ian would be Julia.
Staff writer Shira Moolten contributed to this report.