A hurricane warning was issued for a large stretch of Florida's Gulf Coast Tuesday for Hurricane Ian, as the storm churned toward the state and was expected to become a dangerous Category 4 hurricane before making landfall.
Ian's maximum sustained winds were at 120 mph as it moved north-northeast at 10 mph about 95 miles southwest of Naples, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Tuesday.
Ian made landfall as a Category 3 storm around 4:30 a.m. in Cuba just southwest of the town of La Coloma in the Pinar Del Rio province, and later emerged into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.
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Ian was forecast to reach its peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, with top winds of 140 mph before it makes landfall in Florida on Wednesday.
The hurricane center said Ian will slow down over the Gulf of Mexico, growing wider and stronger, with "life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flooding expected with Ian in the Florida peninsula."
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians faced mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday as dangerous conditions were expected soon.
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"The impacts are going to be far, far broader than just where the eye of the storm happens to make landfall," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday. "In some areas there will be catastrophic flooding and life threatening storm surge. If you're on Florida's Gulf Coast from Naples all the way through the Tampa Bay area and some of the counties north of that, that could be something that happens."
A surge of up to 10 feet of ocean water and 10 inches of rain was predicted across the Tampa Bay area, enough water to inundate coastal communities.
DeSantis urged people to prepare for extended power outages, and to get out of the storm's potential path.
“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in," DeSantis told a news conference in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 that could be hit. "And you’re going to end up with really significant storm surge and you’re going to end up with really significant flood events. And this is the kind of storm surge that is life threatening."
A hurricane warning was issued for Florida's west coast from Chokoloskee to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay, and the Dry Tortugas.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Suwannee River to the Anclote River, all of the Florida Keys, Flamingo to Altamaha Sound, Flamingo to Chokoloskee, Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.
The tropical storm watch from the Suwannee River to Indian Pass, for the Upper Florida Keys, Florida Bay, and for southeastern Florida from south of Boca Raton has been upgraded to a tropical storm warning.
Pictures: Florida Braces for Hurricane Ian as Storm Makes Landfall in Cuba
A storm surge warning was in effect for the Lower Florida Keys from Big Pine Key westward to Key West, Suwannee River southward to Flamingo, Tampa Bay, the Dry Tortugas, the Flagler/Volusia Line to the mouth of the St. Mary's River, and the St. Johns River.
A storm surge watch is in effect for Florida Bay, the mouth of St. Mary's River to South Santee River, and south of Marineland to the Volusia/Flagler county line.
On the forecast track, the center of Ian is expected to pass west of the Florida Keys early Wednesday, and approach the west coast of Florida within the hurricane warning area on Wednesday. The center of Ian is forecast to move over central Florida Wednesday night and Thursday morning and emerge over the western Atlantic by late Thursday.
Fort Myers is in the hurricane zone, and Tampa and St. Petersburg could get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
“People on the barrier islands who decide not to go, they do so at their own peril,” Roger Desjarlais, Lee County’s county manager, said early Tuesday. “The best thing they can do is leave."
As many as 300,000 people may be evacuated from low-lying areas in Hillsborough County alone, county administrator Bonnie Wise said. Some of those evacuations began Monday afternoon in the most vulnerable areas, with schools and other locations opening as shelters.
“We must do everything we can to protect our residents. Time is of the essence,” Wise said.
Lee County -- where Fort Myers is on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast -- also issued mandatory evacuations early Tuesday for low-lying areas including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Bonita Beach, where about 250,000 people live, after forecasters expanded the hurricane warning area.
“With the kind of tidal surge we’re talking about, it would not be uncommon for both islands to be overwashed, and it’s a dangerous place to be,” Desjarlais said. We cannot by law force people off the islands, but we strongly recommend that they go.”
DeSantis said about 2.5 million people were under some type of evacuation order in the state.
Tampa International Airport announced it would suspend all operations beginning at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday due to the hurricane. Travelers were advised to contact their airline for information. American Airlines, meanwhile, reduced fares for flights out of 20 airports in the region that may be impacted by the storm. The airline was also waving fees for checked baggage and carry-on pets to help those in the area to evacuate.
Meanwhile flash flooding and urban flooding was possible with rainfall across the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula through mid-week, NHC forecasters said. A few tornadoes are possible into Tuesday across the Florida Keys and the southern and central Florida peninsula.
Monroe County Emergency Management officials said they were working to advise residents on specific details about the impacts from Ian.
In South Florida, schools in Miami-Dade and Broward were announcing closures this week due to Ian. All schools and offices in the Monroe County School District were closed Tuesday and would remain closed Wednesday due to the impacts of Hurricane Ian.
Florida Power & Light was preparing more than 13,000 workers to assist with their response to Hurricane Ian, company officials said Monday.
The power company said they were pre-positioning workers and supplies to respond to any outages from the hurricane, which was forecast to possibly make landfall along Florida's west coast later this week.
The threat of torrential rainfall over the next few days from Hurricane Ian had Miami residents on guard, knowing that even a typical thunderstorm can cause flooding.
The problem is expected to be compounded by a king tide this week.
On Monday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez reassured residents that all permanent water pumps are working, and seven additional portable pumps will be installed, as needed.
“We have created some additional pumping capacity in that area,” said Suarez. “We have to understand that that is in the midst of king tide where we have the highest tides of the year.”
DeSantis activated the state's National Guard ahead of the storm's expected impact this week.
The governor's declaration frees up emergency protective funding to address potential damage from storm surge, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions throughout the state.
DeSantis expanded the declaration of a state of emergency Saturday to include the entire state.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that the football team was relocating football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buccaneers said the team will leave Tampa on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden has postponed a trip to South Florida this week due to Tropical Storm Ian, the White House announced Saturday.
Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state of Florida due to Ian, the White House said in a statement.
The declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts resulting from Ian.
Hurricane Ian's looming arrival also prompted NASA to move its moon rocket off the launch pad and into its Kennedy Space Center hangar, adding weeks of delay to the lunar-orbiting test flight.