Hurricane Ian, the second major storm of the 2022 Hurricane Season, is strengthening and expected to arrive in Florida on Wednesday, causing major travel disruptions and bringing catastrophic potential to some areas of the state.
According to the latest report from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), as of 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, the storm was moving over Western Cuba, stationed about five miles south of the city of Pinar Del Rio.
Ian was traveling north at about 12 mph, bringing with it sustained winds of up to 175 mph. The NHC has a Hurricane Warning out for some Cuban provinces including Isla de Juventud, Pinar Del Rio, and Artemisa.
The storm is currently expected to arrive in Florida sometime on Wednesday, with rainfall in some areas of Central West Florida potentially going up to 24 inches in some places.
In light of its arrival, the NHC has extended the Hurricane Warning along the west coast of Florida, from Bonita Beach to Anclote River, an area that includes Tampa Bay and Clearwater, two cities that are currently seen most at-risk with Ian’s projected strengthening and movement.
“Little change in strength is expected while Ian moves over Cuba,” the NHC wrote in its latest update. “Strengthening is expected later this morning after Ian emerges over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. Ian is forecast to approach the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane.”
Ian’s arrival could include a life-threatening storm surge along much of the Florida West Coast, with the highest risk from F. Myers to Tampa. There is also a risk of hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall for areas throughout the state.
Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, and Pinellas County, which includes Clearwater, have both already issued a mandatory evacuation order for some areas and have warned of power outages, tropical storm force winds, and catastrophic storm surge when Ian does arrive on Wednesday.
Tampa International Airport has suspended all operations beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 due to the storm. The airport, in a statement, said that the “closure will allow the airport to prepare the airfield and terminals, including the securing of jet bridges, ground equipment, and any remaining aircraft.”
The area’s other airport, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, is also suspending operations. That airport will close at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27 due to those mandatory evacuation orders from Pinellas County. The plan is for St. Pete-Clearwater to “remain closed until the evacuation order is lifted.”
Both airports are telling travelers to contact their airlines for more updates. Many carriers have preemptively issued flight change waivers ahead of Ian’s arrival.
For other areas outside of Tampa, the NHC has a Tropical Storm Warning in effect for the Lower Florida Keys from Seven Mile Bridge westward to Key West, Flamingo to Bonita Beach, Suwanne River to the Anclote River, Volusia/Brevard County Line south to Jupiter Inlet, and Lake Okeechobee. Rain in those areas could reach up to 12 inches in some places including some areas of Northeast Florida and Central Florida.