Unpredictable Hurricane Ian strengthened overnight as it churned in the Caribbean, prompting urgent preparations in Florida, where the storm could deliver impacts, including tornadoes, starting Tuesday before possibly arriving as a major hurricane with powerful winds and dangerous storm surge.
Even as Ian grows stronger -- its sustained winds are at 75 mph with higher gusts -- there remains "higher than usual" uncertainty over its track and intensity, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Still, Floridians are being asked to prepare as they face the risk of dangerous storm surge, high winds and heavy rainfall along the west coast and the Florida Panhandle, the hurricane center said.
"Considerable flooding impacts are possible mid-to-late week in central Florida given already saturated antecedent conditions, and flash and urban flooding is possible with rainfall across the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula through mid-week," the hurricane center said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the entire state should get ready for Ian's impact.
"Make preparations now," DeSantis said Sunday. "The things that you should be prepared with are things like food, water, batteries, medicine, fuel."
The governor also warned of power outages -- especially wherever Ian makes landfall -- as well as possible evacuations and fuel shortages.
The storm, located Monday morning about 90 miles south-southwest of Grand Cayman and about 315 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba, is forecast to rapidly strengthen and reach major hurricane status Monday night as it nears Cuba, the center said in its latest update.
The storm is expected to produce "heavy rainfall, flash flooding, and possible mudslides" in areas of higher terrain, particularly over Jamaica and Cuba.
"Efforts to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," forecasters added.
Storm track points to Florida
After passing Cuba, Ian will track through the eastern Gulf of Mexico, bringing impacts to Florida as early as Tuesday.
Heavy rain, hurricane-force winds, and storm surge are expected across the Keys and the West Coast of Florida this week.
The Florida Keys are forecast to see 4 to 6 inches of rain, west-central Florida is forecast to see 8 to 10 inches of rain with isolated totals up to 15 inches possible, and the remainder of the Florida Peninsula is forecast to see 3 to 8 inches.
Anticipating the storm's effects later this week, a hurricane watch has been issued along the west coast of Florida from north of Englewood to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay.
Tropical storm conditions are forecast to reach the west-central Florida coast Tuesday night, with hurricane conditions possible on Wednesday.
The current storm surge forecast for Florida is as follows:
Anclote River to Englewood, Florida, including Tampa Bay: 5 to 8 feet
Englewood to Bonita Beach, Florida, including Charlotte Harbor: 4 to 7 feet
Bonita Beach to East Cape Sable, Florida: 3 to 5 feet
East Cape Sable to Card Sound Bridge, Florida, including Florida Bay: 2 to 4 feet
Florida Keys including the Dry Tortugas: 2 to 4 feet
"A few tornadoes are possible late Monday night and Tuesday across the Florida Keys and the southern and central Florida Peninsula," the hurricane center said.
Models project different scenarios about where it could make landfall in Florida, and how strong it could be by midweek. As of Monday morning, meteorologists predicted the storm will peak at Category 4 strength over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, then weaken before reaching Florida.
With flash and urban flooding possible across the Florida Keys and the Florida Peninsula through the middle of the week, a tropical storm warning was issued for the lower Florida Keys from Seven Mile Bridge southward to Key West.
Governor activates national guards, cities brace for potential hurricane
DeSantis activated the National Guard on Sunday morning, saying though the path of the storm is still uncertain, the impacts will be broadly felt throughout the state. State and federal disaster declarations were made over the weekend.
One model is projecting Ian to make landfall in the Tampa Bay region while another model is projecting landfall into the Panhandle, DeSantis said.
"Everyone in Florida is going to feel the impacts of the storm," director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, Kevin Guthrie, told CNN on Sunday.
A major concern is how quickly the storm can intensify, stressed Jason Dunion, director of NOAA's hurricane research field program.
"The storm can increase in speed 35 miles per hour in one day," Dunion said. "You can go from a tropical storm to a Category 1, or Category 1 to a Category 3 in just that 24-hour period. That makes it especially important for folks to pay attention to this storm the next couple of days."
As the storm approaches, Floridians are being asked to stock up on supplies like radios, water, canned food and medication for at least seven days, and familiarize themselves with evacuation routes.
Residents in Tampa and other areas were seen lining up for sandbags as they prepared for the storm Sunday.
Filling up bags of sand alongside other community members in Orange County, Jose Lugo told CNN affiliate WFTV he knows what can happen if the worst hits.
"It's better to be prepared than sorry later," Lugo said. "I was in Puerto Rico visiting my parents a couple days before Fiona hit. I was helping them out, and now I'm here helping myself and everybody else."
Cities and counties throughout the state are also preparing.
Officials in Tallahassee, the state's capital, are working to remove debris and make sure the city's power lines and stormwater systems are clear. "We're doing everything we can on the front end of the storm to prepare and secure our infrastructure," Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said.
St. Petersburg Mayor Kenneth Welch said his city on Florida's Gulf Coast is in a vulnerable position. "Even a tropical storm can knock our power grid down for an extended amount of time. We're educating to be prepared and to plan," Welch told CNN.
No matter what strength the storm hits the state, Florida is preparing for a dangerous storm surge, Guthrie said, which is when the force of a hurricane or storm pushes ocean water onshore.
"We could see a situation of a Category 4 storm surge and Category 1 or 2 landfall," Guthrie said.
Officials in Cape Coral, a city in southwest Florida known for its many canals, were particularly concerned about storm surge and winds.
"Right now, of course we are like many other cities, we're preparing for the worst; hoping for the best," Cape Coral mayor John Gunter told CNN.
In Hillsborough County, Ian's approach left the school district with "no choice" but to close all schools as campuses transform into storm shelters, according to Hillsborough County Public Schools.
Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach issued a mandatory evacuation order Saturday and canceled classes Monday due to the approaching storm.
Preparations were also underway in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the activation of the State Operations Center on Monday "to prepare for any potential impact from Tropical Storm Ian later in the week."
"Though models suggest it will weaken before making landfall on Thursday, and its ultimate route is still undetermined, Ian could result in severe weather damage for large parts of Georgia," said a news release from the governor's office.
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