By Jack Phillips
Hurricane Ian is now a major Category 3 hurricane as it lashes the western portion of Cuba, although the storm is still forecast to strengthen further before hitting western Florida as officials have implemented mandatory evacuation orders.
“This is a much different storm. [Hurricane] Charley was a lot smaller, it was powerful, it was a Category 4. Most of the damage from Charley was from wind and wind destruction,” DeSantis said on Tuesday morning, referring to a 2004 Category 4 storm that hit western Florida’s coast.
Hurricane warnings are in effect for Bonita Beach to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay, in Florida, officials said.
With Ian, “what we have here is really historic storm surge and flooding potential,” the governor added. “If you’re looking at those places in Fort Myers, Charlotte County, Sarasota—the storm surge that you’re going to see generated from this is going to far eclipse what we saw” in 2004, he said.
Hurricane Ian’s sustained winds intensified to about 125 mph on Tuesday morning as it made landfall in western Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
It’s expected to hit near the Tampa area around 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, NHC modeling shows. When it makes landfall, Ian will be at least a Category 3 with 111 mph winds at the minimum, according to the model.
“I know there’s folks in southwest Florida who remember Hurricane Charley was projected to make a direct impact into Tampa Bay, and then it turned and went into southwest Florida. I would just say the track may end up doing something similar, but this is a much different storm,” DeSantis also said.
The governor and other Florida officials warned that people around Tampa should heed evacuation orders due to the significant flooding that Ian is expected to bring. Storm surge of between 5 to 10 feet is anticipated for Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor, said the NHC in its update Tuesday. Five to 8 feet of storm surge is also expected between the Suwannee River to Anclote River areas.
“There is a danger of life-threatening storm surge along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning has been issued, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned.
Evacuation orders have already been issued for areas along the western Florida coastline. Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders are in effect in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Charlotte, Collier, Hernando, Sarasota, Pasco, and Manatee counties.
Authorities in Florida created an interactive map to show locals if their county or locality is under an evacuation order ahead of Ian.
“We expect to have to evacuate 300,000 people, and that will take some time,” Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise told reporters. “That’s why we are starting today.”
“This is a worst-case scenario with a very strong, slow-moving storm just to the west of us,” noted Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes, as reported by Fox Weather.
On Tuesday morning, Lee County’s top official issued a mandatory evacuation order.
“The evacuation this morning is a mandatory evacuation order, and that is as mandatory as can be,” Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said in a press conference on Tuesday. “We will not be going house to house enforcing people to leave, but we are stressing the importance of people getting out of harm’s way.”
Hurricane Ian is forecast to intensify to a Category 4 storm with winds of around 140 mph by Wednesday, according to the agency in a forecast discussion.