Hurricane Ian is projected to bring a perilous storm surge and winds as strong as 140 mph when it nears Florida’s Gulf Coast in the middle of this week, the National Hurricane Center said on Monday.
Ian had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph as of 2 a.m. ET Tuesday — rapidly intensifying into a major storm as it hit the western coast of Cuba, forecasters said.
Officials in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province set up dozens of shelters and took steps to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the island’s west coast could see as much as 14 feet (4.3 meters) of storm surge.
As it hits Cuba, Ian’s storm surge “could raise water levels by as much as 9 to 14 feet above normal tide levels” in some areas, the hurricane center said. The surge is predicted to be slightly less severe in Florida, but parts of Tampa Bay could still see waters 5 to 10 feet higher than normal.
Ian is currently around 50 miles west of the city of Pinar del Rio, moving northwest at 13 mph, the NHC said in its 2 a.m. advisory. During the next 48 hours, the storm is expected to shift course toward the north and northeast — and the timing of those moves will likely determine where it makes landfall on the U.S. mainland.
A hurricane warning — meaning dangerous conditions are imminent — is in effect for western Cuba. In the U.S., roughly 100 miles of the Florida coast is under a hurricane watch, from Englewood north to the Anclote River — a stretch that includes Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg. A hurricane watch is normally issued 48 hours before storm conditions arrive.
Ian is the fourth Atlantic hurricane of 2022, a season that only saw its first hurricane earlier this month. So far, predictions of above-average activity in the 2022 hurricane season haven’t come to pass — a circumstance explained by fluctuations in the jet stream and heat waves in northern latitudes.