Tropical Storm Ian, growing to near hurricane strength late Sunday night with winds of 65 mph, is still on track for a Florida landfall this week but there remains significant uncertainty of its track in the next 3 to 5 days.
In its 11 pm Sunday update, the National Hurricane Center shifted its projected path for Ian east again toward Florida.
The latest track forecasts Ian to make landfall north of Tampa Bay on Thursday evening as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum-sustained winds of 90 mph. This after Ian is expected to significantly increase in strength to a Cat 2 storm with winds of 100 mph by Monday night and to a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 mph off the coast of Southwest Florida on Wednesday morning.
But computer forecast models still aren’t in perfect alignment on where the storm may go – a landfall north of the Tampa Bay area or one farther north in Florida’s panhandle.
“The official track forecast has been shifted somewhat to the east of the previous one and is mainly a blend of the latest ECMWF and GFS [forecast model] predictions,” NHC forecasters said Sunday night. “It should again be stressed that there is still significant uncertainty in the track of Ian, especially in the 3-5 day time frame.”
“Users should not focus on the details of the track forecast at longer time ranges.”
Whether it’s a direct hit in west Central Florida or in the panhandle, future Hurricane Ian will have a significant impact on the weather in Florida this week.
“Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of this week, and residents in Florida should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place,” the hurricane center warned.
“Follow any advice given by local officials and closely monitor updates to the forecast.”
The next forecast track adjustment from the NHC is scheduled for 5 am Monday.
At 11 pm Sunday, Ian was located about 140 miles south of Grand Cayman and 390 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba, moving northwest at 13 mph. Ian’s tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from its center.
The hurricane center said a Tropical Storm Warning was in effect for the lower Florida Keys, from the Seven Mile Bridge south to Key West, including the Dry Tortugas.
A Tropical Storm Watch was issued for Englewood southward to Chokoloskee on Florida’s west coast.
A Storm Surge Watch was issued for the Keys from the Card Sound Bridge westward to Key West and the Dry Tortugas, and for Florida’s west coast from Englewood southward to the Card Sound Bridge, and for Florida Bay.
Hurricane Warnings remain for Grand Cayman and parts of Cuba, where significant wind and storm impacts are expected within the next 36 hours.
“Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 65 mph with higher gusts,” the NHC said Sunday. “Additional strengthening is forecast tonight, followed by more rapid strengthening on Monday and Tuesday. Ian is forecast to become a hurricane by early Monday and a major hurricane on Tuesday.”
Tropical storm conditions are expected in the warning area in the lower Florida Keys on Tuesday. Tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area along the Florida west coast by Tuesday evening.
“Considerable flooding impacts are possible later this week in west central Florida,” the NHC said. “Additional flash and urban flooding, and flooding on rivers across the Florida Peninsula and parts of the Southeast cannot be ruled out for later this week.”
Florida will be impacted by the storm, regardless of where it may come ashore, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Sunday.
From Tallahassee, DeSantis urged Floridians Sunday to be prepared for the worst and pay attention to any shifts in the storm’s path.
“We are continuing to monitor Tropical Storm Ian,” DeSantis told reporters gathered at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
John Cangialosi, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based hurricane center, said it was not yet clear exactly where Ian will hit the hardest. He said Floridians should begin preparations, including gathering supplies for potential power outages.
“At this point really the right message for those living in Florida is that you have to watch forecasts and get ready and prepare yourself for potential impact from this tropical system,” he said.
David Sharp, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said now is the time for Central Florida residents to pay attention to Ian’s forecast.
“Stay up to date with the forecasts,” Sharp said. “Small changes in the forecast can end up making a big difference by the time it gets to us on day four or five.”
“You always want to plan for the most likely scenario at the minimum and prepare for a reasonable worst case scenario which means how bad it could get,” Sharp said. “The current forecast is what we call the most likely scenario so that we are concerned with flooding rain, with tropical storm force winds, and hurricane gusts and tornadoes.”
As for when the Ian could have the greatest impact on Central Florida, Sharp pointed to Wednesday.
“The most likely time is Wednesday afternoon, evening about that time, so you definitely want to have things done by Wednesday morning, Wednesday afternoon at the latest,” Sharp said. “Before we see the winds we are going to see rain … so you don’t want to be running around when the roads might be flooded or there’s tornado warnings.”
“The hazards that we’re concerned most about this time is flooding rain … also there’s a concern for tropical storm force winds with hurricane gusts right now,” Sharp said.
Across Central Florida, schools were monitoring Ian’s progress.
Bethune Cookman University, a private historically black university in Daytona Beach, announced a mandatory campus evacuation beginning Monday at noon with no return date set yet and students in resident halls were encouraged to evacuate as soon as Sunday.
At BCU classes will be moved online only on Tuesday, according to a letter from the Office of Academic Affairs on Saturday.
At the University of Central Florida, the campus will remain open with a status update coming on Monday to decide university operations for the coming week.
Rollin College in Winter Park will announce a decision on whether or not to close the campus on Sunday, according to their official social media.
The University of South Florida in Tampa will keep campus operations open and classes as scheduled pending an update Sunday evening, according to the official university website.
Florida State University and the University of Florida are continuing to monitor the storm before announcing any changes to campus operations or classes, according to their official social media pages.
Both universities ask their students to plan and prepare as well as ensure they are up to date with their university’s emergency alert system.