Hurricane Ian: Floridians brace for strengthening storm

Ian is expected to become a major hurricane by early Tuesday as it continues to churn on a path toward Cuba and the Florida peninsula.

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Here are the latest updates for Monday, Sept. 26:

Update 11:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: According to the National Hurricane Center, strong winds, flash floods and possible mudslides are expected in parts of Cuba starting overnight through Tuesday. NHC said devastating wind damage is possible as Ian moves across western Cuba.

According to NHC, hurricane winds are expected in the hurricane warning area near west-central Florida starting Wednesday morning. The area can expect tropical storm conditions by the end of Tuesday.

Update 5:11 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: According to WFTV, as of 5 p.m., Ian has become a Category 2 hurricane. It is expected to become a Category 4.

It is expected that Ian will strengthen into a Category 3 as it moves over Cuba overnight and into Tuesday morning, according to WFTV.

Update 3:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials plan to close St.Pete-Clearwater International Airport in Florida beginning Tuesday due to Hurricane Ian.

In a statement posted on social media, airport officials said flights would continue as scheduled until 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Update 3:35 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials with the oil and gas company BP said Monday that they were halting production at two of the company’s oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Hurricane Ian’s arrival, according to Reuters.

Officials evacuated personnel from its Na Kika and Thunder Horse platforms, Reuters reported.

“We will continue to monitor weather conditions closely to determine next steps,” BP officials said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

Na Kika is 40 miles southeast of New Orleans and can process up to 130,000 barrels of oil and 550 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, according to BP. Thunder Horse is 150 miles southeast of New Orleans and can process up to 250,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Update 2:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials in Pinellas County on Monday ordered some residents to evacuate due to the threat posed by Hurricane Ian.

Residential healthcare facilities are also under mandatory evacuation orders, officials said.

Update 2:35 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Thousands of national guard members and other officials are preparing to aid in Florida’s response to Hurricane Ian, which continued Monday to spin toward the state.

The preparations include 5,000 members of the Florida National Guard who have been activated along with 2,000 national guard members from other states, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. Five urban search and rescue teams, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Highway Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard are also making preparations.

“We’re also in contact with all the major utilities throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “You have more 25,000 linemen that are stationed, ready to go once the all-clear is given and they are given the go-ahead to go and get the power back on.”

The governor told people to prepare to lose power due to the storm, potentially for several days.

Update 2:25 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that the state will feel the impacts of Hurricane Ian “regardless of the precise track that this takes.”

“Even if the track is off the coast of Tampa, St. Pete, you’re still looking at really significant rain, you’re looking at a lot of wind, you’re looking at a lot of storm surge,” he said. “Don’t think because that eye may or may not be in your area that you’re not going to see impacts. You’re going to see significant impacts.”

He said the storm was about 500 miles wide as of Monday afternoon and said that tropical storm warnings and hurricane and tropical storm watches are expected to expand.

Update 2 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Hurricane Ian continued to intensify on Monday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds rising to 85 mph from 80 mph hour earlier, officials with the National Hurricane Center said in a 2 p.m. advisory.

“Rapid strengthening is expected during the next day or so,” forecasters said, reiterating that the storm is expected to reach major hurricane strength by early Tuesday.

Update 1:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday that they are preparing to aid Florida as Hurricane Ian continues to spin.

“My message to Floridians is this: Get ready and do not underestimate this storm!” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a social media post.

The agency is preparing with supplies and people in Florida and Alabama. Among other things, officials have more than 4.5 million liters of water and over 4 million meals prepared, authorities said.

Update 1:10 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials in Florida continue to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to bring hurricane conditions to parts of Florida by mid-week.

Thousands of utility workers gathered Monday in Lake City, about 60 miles west of Jacksonville, ahead of the storm, WJAX-TV reported. The crews include workers from 27 states, according to the news station.

Officials with the Florida Department of Health urged people to make sure that they have enough of their prescriptions on hand to ride out the storm.

Parts of Hillsborough County have been put under a mandatory evacuation order while other parts have been placed under voluntary evacuations.

Update 12:20 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announced that he is suspending tolls in the Tampa Bay area to help ease evacuations amid the threat posed by Hurricane Ian.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, emphasized Monday that Floridians still have time to prepare for the coming storm, WFTV reported.

“Do not panic,” Guthrie said. “There is still time to get your preparations in order and evacuate if necessary.”

Update 11:25 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials in Florida’s Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, have issued a mandatory evacuation for some residents starting Monday afternoon as Hurricane Ian continues to churn toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Several school districts have announced early dismissals and planned closures in anticipation of the storm, WFTV reported.

Update 11:10 a.m. EDT Sept 26: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis noted at a news conference on Monday that Hurricane Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and strengthen into a major hurricane as soon as Tuesday.

“It will bring heavy rains, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge, along with isolated tornado activity along Florida’s Gulf Coast,” he said. “Floridians up and down the Gulf Coast should feel the impacts of this up to 36 hours before actual landfall due to the size of the hurricane. It’s a really, really big hurricane at this point. The diameter -- the width of it — is about 500 miles wide.”

Update 11 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: Officials extended a tropical storm watch for the west coast of Florida as Hurricane Ian continues strengthening on a path toward Cuba.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph as it spun Monday morning about 100 miles west of Grand Cayman and 240 miles southwest of the western tip of Cuba, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. advisory.

Update 8 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: Hurricane Ian is expected to continue to strengthen rapidly and produce significant wind and storm surges in western Cuba, the National Hurricane Center said Monday morning.

In its 8 a.m. EDT advisory, the agency said the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, was about 90 miles west-southwest of Grand Cayman and 275 miles southeast of Cuba’s western tip. It was moving northwest at 14 mph.

Update 5 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: Ian has become a hurricane and is expected to strengthen rapidly today, the National Hurricane Center said early Monday.

In its 5 a.m. EDT advisory, the agency said the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, was about 90 miles southwest of Grand Cayman and 315 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba. It was moving northwest at 14 mph.

A hurricane watch has been issued along Florida’s west coast from north of Englewood to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay, the advisory said. A storm surge watch has been extended northward along the west coast of Florida to the Anclote River.

Update 2 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: Tropical Storm Ian is expected to rapidly strengthen and produce significant wind and storm surges in western Cuba, the National Hurricane Center said early Monday.

In its 2 a.m. EDT advisory, the agency said the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, was about 115 miles south-southwest of Grand Cayman and 355 miles southeast of Cuba’s western tip. It was moving northwest at 13 mph.

Update 11 p.m. EDT Sept. 25: Tropical Storm Ian has increased in both strength and speed according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 p.m. EDT advisory. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 65 mph and is now moving at 13 mph.

As the storm draws closer to the U.S., additional watches and warnings were added to the advisory:

  • A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the lower Florida Keys from Seven Mile Bridge westward to Key West, including the Dry Tortugas.
  • A Storm Surge Watch has been issued for the Florida Keys from the Card Sound Bridge westward to Key west, including the Dry Tortugas, and for the west coast of Florida from Englewood southward to the Card Sound Bridge, including Florida Bay.
  • A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the west coast of Florida from Englewood southward to Chokoloskee.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for Grand Cayman and for the western Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud and Artemisa.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas, and there is a tropical storm watch for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Update 8 p.m. EDT Sept. 25: Tropical Storm Ian increased in strength Sunday evening as it traveled over warmer water. According to the National Hurricane Center’s 8 p.m. EDT advisory, the storm now has maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and is still moving northwest at 12 mph.

At 6:17 p.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center issued a Tropical Storm Watch for Monroe Lower Keys in a Local Statement Advisory.

Ian is expected to turn toward the north-northwest on Monday. followed by northward motion on Tuesday moving at a slightly slower forward speed.

There were no changes to watches and warnings in the 8 p.m. EDT advisory, and a hurricane warning remains in effect in the western Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud and Artemisa. Grand Cayman also remains under a hurricane warning.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas, and there is a tropical storm watch for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Update 5:06 p.m. EDT Sept. 25: Tropical Storm Ian weakened slightly Sunday afternoon, but forecasters still expected it to develop into a major hurricane when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico over the next few days.

According to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. EDT advisory, a tropical storm watch has been issued for the lower Florida Keys from the Seven Mile Bridge near Marathon southward to Key West, including the Dry Tortugas.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Ian was centered about 220 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman. The storm’s maximum sustained winds dropped slightly to 45 mph, and Ian continues to move to the west-northwest at 12 mph.

A hurricane warning remains in effect in the western Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud and Artemisa. Grand Cayman is also still under a hurricane warning.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas, and there is a tropical storm watch for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

The hurricane center said Ian is expected to take a turn toward the northwest by Sunday evening, followed by a north-northwestward motion on Monday.

The hurricane center will issue an intermediate advisory at 8 p.m. EDT.

Update 2:01 p.m. EDT Sept. 25: Little has changed with Tropical Storm Ian’s intensity, although the storm slowed its movement somewhat Sunday afternoon. According to the National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. EDT advisory, Ian was centered about 265 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, with some gusts approaching 65 mph. Ian is moving to the west-northwest at 12 mph.

A hurricane warning remains in effect in the western Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud and Artemisa. Grand Cayman is also still under a hurricane warning.

A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas.

The hurricane center said Ian is expected to take a turn toward the northwest by Sunday evening, followed by a north-northwestward motion on Monday.

The next full advisory by the National Hurricane Center will be issued at 5 p.m. EDT.

Update 11:42 a.m. EDT Sept. 25: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged residents that there was still a degree of uncertainty that exists as forecasters attempt to pinpoint the path of Tropical Storm Ian.

“Just because that dot is in a certain place (on the map), that doesn’t mean there won’t be a wobble,” DeSantis said during a news conference late Sunday morning, adding that hurricane models vary in determining where Ian may make landfall.

The governor said that due to the models’ variations, residents from Escambia County on the Panhandle to the Tampa Bay area should remain vigilant and prepared. American models project the storm to impact the Panhandle area, while European models believe the storm will jog slightly to the east and affect the Gulf coast between Tampa and Fort Myers.

DeSantis added that residents should be prepared for power outages, fuel shortages and possible evacuations, depending on where the storm makes landfall.

Update 11:01 a.m. EDT Sept. 25: According to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. EDT advisory, Ian was centered about 300 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman. The storm’s maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. Some gusts were reaching up to 65 mph, the hurricane center said. Ian is moving to the west-northwest at 14 mph.

Several western provinces in Cuba are now under a hurricane warning, including Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud and Artemisa. Grand Cayman is also under a hurricane warning.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas.

President Joe Biden canceled Tuesday speeches in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in anticipation of the storm, the Miami Herald reported. Late Saturday, Biden also declared an emergency in Florida and ordered federal assistance to aid response efforts. He authorized Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to eliminate “hardship and suffering” brought by the storm, according to the newspaper.

Ian is forecast to become a major hurricane as it approaches the western tip of Cuba over the next 48 hours, WFTV reported.

Update 8:01 a.m. EDT Sept. 25: According to the National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. EDT advisory, Ian was centered about 320 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and was packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. Some gusts were reaching up to 65 mph, the hurricane center said.

The storm continues to move west-northwest at 12 mph.

The NHC said the storm is expected to rapidly intensify later Sunday. Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are expected to receive between 3 and 6 inches of rain, while western Cuba could see up to 8 inches of rain.

The NHC will release its next advisory at 11 a.m. EDT.

Original report: According to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 a.m. EDT advisory, Ian was centered about 345 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and was packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

The storm was moving west-northwest at 12 mph.

Several provinces in Cuba remain under a hurricane watch, including Pinar del Rio, Isla de Juventud and Artemisa. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, and the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas.

Most of Florida remained in the cone as of the 5 a.m. advisory, but forecasters at the hurricane center continued to nudge the track slightly westward. Forecasters added that movement to the east remained a possibility as Ian moved into the warmer waters of the western Caribbean Sea.

Check back for more on this developing story.

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