Energy & Environment

What you need to know about Hurricane Ian

General view of the St. Pete pier as the first winds of Hurricane Ian arrive on September 28, 2022 in Saint Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

Hurricane Ian is set to slam into the western coast of Florida as a major Category 4 storm, bringing intense winds, heavy rain and a high risk of flooding. 

The storm is expected to make landfall on Wednesday between Sarasota and Fort Myers and move across the state toward the Atlantic Ocean before coming back to land. The hurricane has grown stronger and slowed down as it’s approached Florida, and more than 2 million people are under evacuation orders in the central part of the state. 

Here’s what you need to know about Hurricane Ian: 

One of the most powerful storms to hit continental U.S. 

Hurricane Ian was recorded to have maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour as of Wednesday morning, just 2 miles per hour slower than that of a Category 5 storm. 

If the hurricane keeps at least the same wind speed by the time it makes landfall, it would be just the fifth one to make landfall in the continental United States with wind speeds at or above 155 miles per hour. However, it would be the second one in recent years. 

Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach tweeted on Wednesday that the last hurricane to make landfall with wind speeds above 155 miles per hour was Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on the Florida Panhandle in 2018. Michael’s winds clocked in at a maximum of 160 miles per hour. 

Klotzbach said the first was the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which holds the record among hurricanes in the contiguous U.S. for highest maximum sustained winds at 185 miles per hour. The other two were Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. 

Life-threatening storm surge up to 18 feet 

Officials have consistently warned in recent days that storm surge could be deadly in coastal areas. The National Hurricane Center projected Wednesday that storm surge 12 to 18 feet above ground, along with “destructive” waves, could occur on the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood, near Sarasota, to Bonita Beach, near Fort Myers. 

Storm surge occurs when strong winds from a storm like a hurricane push water to the shore, according to National Geographic. Water can rise rapidly and has caused large death tolls in past hurricanes. 

At least 1,500 people were killed from storm surge during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to the hurricane center. 

Meteorologists are also concerned about flash flooding in inland areas. The National Weather Service (NWS) considers most of the state of Florida to have a high or moderate risk of flash flooding

The most likely track for Ian projects that it will return to hit Georgia and South Carolina after it leaves Florida and moves to the Atlantic Ocean, leading the NWS to believe considerable flooding is likely in southeastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina. 

Extreme wind warning issued 

A rare extreme wind warning was issued for parts of Lee County in southwestern Florida and will likely be issued in other counties as the storm makes landfall. 

An extreme wind warning is only issued for sustained surface winds of 115 miles per hour or greater, a result of a major hurricane coming ashore. The Weather Channel reported that the warning has been issued less than 15 times since it was created.

The National Hurricane Center said catastrophic wind damage will occur on the southwestern coast of Florida and hurricane-force winds are expected far inland. Any preparations to protect life and property “should be urgently rushed to completion.” 

Hurricane Ian’s winds have already knocked out the power grid for the entirety of Cuba after it hit the island. Officials are starting to restore power in the capital, Havana, but most other parts remained without electricity. This was the first time in recent history that the entire island lost power. 

Officials say it’s too late for people to evacuate 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state and local officials urged residents in the central Florida counties to comply with evacuation orders in recent days, but Wednesday they said the time for evacuation has passed. 

The storm will make landfall imminently, and DeSantis said evacuating safely was no longer possible. He said the storm should be treated like a tornado was coming. 

“It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm,” he said.

Tags evacuations extreme wind warning flash flooding Florida Hurricane Ian Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis storm surge
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