Tropical Storm Ian strengthens in the Caribbean and tracks towards Florida



CNN

The ninth named tropical storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has formed over the central Caribbean Sea, and forecasts show that Florida could soon be affected by its first major hurricane since 2018.

Tropical Storm Ian was located 385 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, as of Friday evening and moving west-northwest at 12 mph. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 km/h) and is expected to strengthen to hurricane status within the next two days as it approaches the Cayman Islands by early Monday.

Further strengthening is expected as the system – previously known as Tropical Depression Nine – approaches and crosses western Cuba on Monday night. As it moves back into the warm waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, it is possible that the storm will reach major hurricane status with winds at or above 111 mph (178 km/h).

The National Hurricane Center says in its latest update that the forecast “still shows Ian as a major hurricane over the eastern Gulf of Mexico as it approaches the west coast of Florida.”

If it strengthens to a Category 3 or higher before reaching Florida, it would be the first major hurricane to make landfall there since Hurricane Michael in 2018, which was a monster Category 5 storm when it collided with the Florida panhandle. Michael also underwent rapid intensification before landfall, a phenomenon made more likely as ocean temperatures warm due to the climate crisis.

A hurricane watch has been issued for the Cayman Islands, including Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac by the government of the Cayman Islands. The Government of Jamaica has issued a tropical storm watch.

Tropical storm-force winds may begin affecting southwest Florida early Tuesday, with landfall possible on Wednesday. The exact timing and location of the storm’s U.S. landfall will depend heavily on its final path, which could change in the coming days.

The National Hurricane Center said Friday evening that there was still “elevated track uncertainty” in the forecast after it entered the Gulf of Mexico, noting that weather models had been shifting in recent runs. The latest track forecast suggests that much of Florida’s Gulf Coast — including the eastern panhandle — may be at risk.

As forecasts intensify, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday requested federal emergency aid in anticipation of the threat and also declared a state of emergency for 24 counties. Under the statewide emergency order, members of the Florida National Guard will be activated and on standby awaiting orders.

The governor urged those in the storm’s possible path to prepare.

“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a news release. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to monitor potential impacts from this storm.”

It has been a slow start to what was predicted to be an above average hurricane season. Only one storm has made landfall in a US territory, and no hurricane has made landfall or threatened contiguous states.

Now, a week past the peak of hurricane season, the tropics appear to have woken up, and forecasters are concerned that people have let their guard down.

“After a slow start, the Atlantic hurricane season has picked up quickly,” tweeted Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University.

“People tend to let their guard down and think, oh, yeah, we’re out of the woods,” hurricane center spokeswoman Maria Torres told CNN. “But in reality the season continues. We’re still in September; we still have October to go. Anything that develops over the Atlantic or the Caribbean is something we have to follow very closely.

The Atlantic hurricane season ends November 30.

No matter what, if you live in the Caribbean, Florida and other states along the Gulf Coast, pay attention to the updated forecasts this weekend and early next week.