Tropical Storm Ian forms, may hit Florida as major hurricane

Tropical Storm Ian formed in the Caribbean on Friday night, with a path that could bring it to Florida next week as a major Category 3 hurricane prompting Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 24 counties.

In its 11 pm update, the National Hurricane Center upgraded Tropical Depression 9 to Tropical Storm Ian. The storm, with maximum-sustained winds of 40 mph, was located about 385 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. It was moving to the west-northwest at 12 mph.

“Early next week, Ian is forecast to move near or over western Cuba as a strengthening hurricane and then approach the Florida peninsula at or near major hurricane strength, with the potential for significant impacts from storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall ,” the NHC said in its discussion of the storm. “While it is too soon to determine the exact magnitude and location of these impacts, residents in Cuba, the Florida Keys, and the Florida peninsula should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and closely monitor forecast updates through the weekend.”

Though most of the state of Florida is within Tropical Storm Ian’s “cone of uncertainty,” the NHC cautioned that computer models are diverging on where the storm goes in the Gulf of Mexico after leaving Cuba.

Regardless of its exact path, Ian will start impacting Florida next week.

“Florida Keys and South Florida: Heavy rains begin as early as Monday,” the NHC said. “Limited flash and urban flooding is possible with this rainfall.”

The storm, forecast to grow its winds to 115 mph, prompted DeSantis’ emergency declaration.

“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” he said. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm.”

DeSantis also requested a federal emergency declaration ahead of landfall that would free up funding sources for emergency protective measures. The counties in the order are Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and St. Lucia.

Not in the order are Orange, Lake, Seminole or Volusia.

The latest cone of uncertainty still has the system approaching Florida late Tuesday and making landfall Wednesday, but the consensus center path has moved slightly up the southwest coast closer to Tampa than the earlier advisories.

“I’m a Floridian. so I’m going to speak to you candidly. Don’t panic,” said NHC acting director Jamie Rhome said earlier Friday. “It is important that you take this threat seriously and begin to execute your hurricane plans in a calm and orderly fashion while there’s still time to get ready.”

There will be a slow intensification over the weekend with Ian expected to grow into hurricane strength by Monday morning with its center south of Cuba near the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.

“We are watching the path, still not quite clear-cut, but it is aiming in the general direction of Florida sometime next week,” said Spectrum News 13 meteorologist Bryan Karrick. “So I’d spend the weekend getting your hurricane preps ready to go, maybe top off the gas tank, and get your generator ready, some bottled water and canned goods as well as we watch the system next week.”

This map shows the earliest possible arrival of tropical-storm-force winds from Ian next week.

The five-day path has it hooking north by Tuesday over Cuba and then parked off Florida’s southwest coast as a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds and tastes of 140 mph by Wednesday morning.

“The system already possessed a well-defined circulation for the last 12 to 18 hours, but it was only overnight that the ongoing convective activity was able to persist long enough near the center to be considered a tropical cyclone,” said NHC hurricane specialist Phillipe Papin.

Elsewhere in the tropics, Hurricane Fiona became Post Tropical-Cyclone Fiona as it headed toward Canada. At 11 pm, it was located 140 miles east of Halifax, Nova Scotia with maximum-sustained winds of 105 mph. It was moving north at an incredible 46 mph.

Tropical Storm Gaston has started to turn and is headed toward the Azores islands in the Atlantic and TS Hermine formed off the coast of Africa. Finally, the NHC is monitoring a disturbance several hundred miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands.

At 11 pm on Friday, the National Hurricane Center was monitoring five areas including three tropical storms.  and Post Tropical Cyclone Fiona.

Since Sept. 1, the tropics have begun to play catchup churning out five named storms in three weeks after nearly two months of quiet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in early August updated its season prediction that 2022 would still be above-average with 14 to 21 named storms, although not a single named storm formed in the month of August.

The 2020 hurricane season set a record with 30 named systems, while 2021′s season was the third most active with 21 named systems. An average year calls for 14 named storms.

Through Ian, 2022 has produced nine named systems.

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