Hurricane Ian forms; potential for life-threatening surge

HOLT, Fla., Sept. 26, 2022—Ian strengthened into a hurricane early this morning becoming the fourth hurricane of the season.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast has become better defined and the new shift moves Okaloosa County and those west out of the five-day cone.

Mobile’s National Weather Service is forecasting tropical storm conditions here for Thursday night into Friday.

Tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings have been issued for a portion of the west coast and the Florida Keys, and additional watches could be required later today.

Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders are starting in Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay area beginning at 2 p.m.

Life-threatening storm surge is possible along much of the Florida west coast, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region, according to the NHC.

Additional strengthening is likely over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico tomorrow, reaching its peak intensity in 36 hours, as it begins to move into an environment with extremely warm waters and low wind shear, according to the NHC.

Ian is forecast to strengthen into a major hurricane by Tuesday evening or early Wednesday with peak sustained winds forecast for 140 mph.

After Wednesday, Ian is forecast to begin weakening due to drier air and wind shear.

Despite the reduction in intensity, however, Ian’s wind field is forecast to expand as the storm begins slowing. This will likely prolong the storm surge, wind and rainfall impacts along the west coast of Florida, according to the NHC.

The east coast of Florida could also feel impacts from Ian, according to Kevin Guthrie, director, Florida Division of Emergency Management during a Facebook interview yesterday.

“It’s going to impact everybody. It’s not just about the winds and storm surge. We’re going to have that on the west coast of Florida,” he said. “Even on the east coast of Florida, you need to be aware of tornadoes, you need to be aware of flash flooding.”

Life-threatening surge

Although the NHC is forecasting Ian to be a weakened storm by landfall, it will create major hurricane storm surge with heavy rain, according to Guthrie.

“As [Ian] continues to increase in intensity up to category 4, the wind field is going to just get really, really huge,” he said. “There’s some models that indicate 10-15 inches of rain in isolated areas, 5-10 [inches] widespread across the state.”

A 5-10 foot storm surge is forecast for the Tampa Bay area.

The NHC is forecasting a 5-10 foot storm surge in the Tampa Bay area. Those values could rise with future forecasts, depending on Ian’s strength.

The Tampa Bay area hasn’t seen storm surge like what Ian may produce since the 1921 hurricane that produced a storm surge of 11 feet. There were eight fatalities with nearly half attributed to drowning from the surge, according to the NWS.

Storm surge maps show Tampa Bay bridges completely under water.

Popular weather enthusiast and blogger Mike Boylen who operates lives in the Tampa Bay area. He’s been closely following Ian, along with his 1.2 million followers. He seemed stunned during today’s live Facebook chat.

“Living here my whole life I just can’t believe some of these surge estimates,” said Boylen. “Part of me doesn’t even believe it.”

Hurricane-force winds are possible in the hurricane watch area in west-central Florida beginning Wednesday morning with tropical storm conditions possible by late Tuesday.

The next NHC update is 4 p.m. CDT.

Staff and NHC forecast

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