TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The National Hurricane Center is anticipating “life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds, and flooding” in Florida Wednesday as now Category 4 Hurricane Ian rapidly intensifies.
In an updated statement at 8 a.m., the NHC said conditions are rapidly deteriorating along the southwest Florida coast as recent data indicated that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 155 mph.
The NHC predicted that the greatest risk of deadly storm surges would be in the area from Sarasota to Naples. Residents in these areas were told to head evacuation orders from local officials.
As of 7 a.m., Hurricane Ian was tracked about 55 miles west of Naples, and 60 miles southwest of Punta Gorda with maximum sustained winds near 155 mph – making it a powerful Category 4 major hurricane. The storm is moving north-northeast at about 10 mph.
Ian is expected to make landfall as a major Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday. Model data showed Ian continue to shift further to the south and east, moving Tampa Bay out of the line of a direct hit.
“This means the storms will move onshore more quickly and as a stronger storm,” WFLA Meteorologist Rebecca Barry said. “The worst of the impacts will be to the south of Tampa Bay. Sarasota, Hardee, eastern Hillsborough and Polk will see the heaviest rainfall and we are concerned we will see damaging flooding as a result of the downpours. Storm surge becomes less of a threat with this shift in the track.”
Ian is expected to approach the west coast of Florida Wednesday morning, and move onshore later in the day, according to the NHC. The center of Ian is projected to move over central Florida Wednesday night and Thursday morning before it emerges over the western Atlantic by late Thursday.
“Expect conditions to deteriorate throughout the day on Wednesday and the worst of the winds to push through overnight Wednesday night into Thursday,” Barry said.
The NHC says Category 4 hurricanes can cause “catastrophic damage” to well-built homes, particularly roof structures and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Power outages can last weeks to possibly months.
Aside from the hurricane-force winds, tornadoes are also possible across central and south Florida.
Central Florida and northeast Florida are expected to see 12 to 18 inches of rain, with isolated totals possibly reaching a maximum of 24 inches. The Florida Keys and south Florida could see six to eight inches of rain with local maximum totals of 12 inches.
Eastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina can also expect four to eight inches of rain from Ian, according to the NHC.
Central Florida is forecast to have “widespread catastrophic” flash, urban, and river flooding while considerable flooding is expected for southern and northeast Florida, along with parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
At 12:30 a.m. Thursday, the NHC issued a new storm surge warning for the Lower Florida Keys.
The areas below are expected to experience the following levels of storm surge:
Middle of Longboat Key to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor — 8-12 ftBonita Beach to Chokoloskee — 6-10 ftAnclote River to Middle of Longboat Key, including Tampa Bay — 4-6 ftSuwannee River to Anclote River — 3-5 ftMouth of the St. Mary’s River to Altamaha Sound — 4-6 ftChokoloskee to East Cape Sable…4-7 ftLower Keys from Key West to Big Pine Key, including the Dry Tortugas — 3-5 ftFlagler/Volusia County Line to Mouth of the St. Mary’s River, including St. Johns River — 3-5 ftAltamaha Sound to Savannah River — 3-5 ftSt. Johns River south of Julington — 2-4 ftSavannah River to South Santee River — 2-4 ftEast Cape Sable to Card Sound Bridge — 2-4 ftFlorida Keys east of Big Pine Key — 2-4 ftPatrick Air Force Base to Flagler/Volusia County Line — 1-3 ftIndian Pass to Suwanee River — 1-3 ft
The NHC said the deepest water will be near and to the right of the hurricane’s center, where large waves will accompany the storm surges. The flooding is dependent on the timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, creating varying levels of floodwaters over short distances.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:
Chokoloskee to Anclote River, including Tampa BayDry Tortugas
A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for:
Suwannee River southward to FlamingoTampa BayLower Florida Keys from Big Pine Key westward to Key WestDry TortugasFlagler/Volusia Line to the mouth of the St. Mary’s RiverSt. Johns River
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:
Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque, and MatanzasIndian Pass to the Anclote RiverAll of the Florida KeysFlamingo to South Santee RiverFlamingo to ChokoloskeeLake OkeechobeeFlorida BayBimini and Grand Bahama Islands
A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for:
Florida Keys from the Card Sound Bridge westward to east of Big Pine KeyFlorida BayMouth of St. Mary’s River to South Santee River