Hurricane Ian strengthens to ‘deadly’ Category 4 storm, expected to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday – NBC Chicago

Flight cancellations to and from Florida airports are piling up as residents and visitors hope to escape the state before Hurricane Ian, now a powerful and dangerous Category 4 storm, is expected to make landfall Wednesday.

Early Wednesday morning, Orlando and Miami airports reported more than 1,100 flight cancellations, according to Flight Aware. By Tuesday evening, Tampa International Airport had completely suspended operations.

As of Wednesday, at O’Hare and Midway International Airports, more than three dozen flights to and from Florida had already been canceled.

With maximum sustained winds at 140 mph, Ian is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flooding along the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast from Bonita Beach to the Tampa Bay area, a said the National Hurricane Center in Miami at 5 a.m. advisory on Wednesday.

The storm is centered about 75 miles west-southwest of Naples and is moving north at a speed of 10 mph.

Ian made landfall as a Category 3 storm on Tuesday in Cuba, just southwest of the town of La Coloma in Pinar Del Rio province, causing the power grid to black out and leave the entire island without power.

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians faced mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday in anticipation of powerful storm surge, high winds and torrential rain. The hurricane center predicted Ian would roar across Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday afternoon. Many rushed to lock up their homes and move their prized possessions to upper floors before fleeing.

“You can’t do anything about natural disasters,” said Vinod Nair, who drove inland from the Tampa area on Tuesday with his wife, son, dog and two kittens in search of a hotel in the tourist district of Orlando. “We live in a high-risk area, so we thought it best to evacuate.”

Ian slowed over the Gulf, allowing the hurricane to widen and strengthen. Winds exceeding tropical storm force 39 mph had already reached Florida by 3 a.m. Wednesday and hurricane-force winds were expected in Florida long before the storm’s eyewall moved inland. , said the Miami-based NHC Center.

“The impacts are going to be much, much wider than just where the eye of the storm makes landfall,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday. “In some areas, there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surges.”

Forecasters said the storm surge could reach 12 feet if it peaks at high tide. Rainfall near the landing area could exceed 18 inches.

DeSantis urged people to prepare for extended power outages and to move away from the storm’s potential path.

“It’s a big storm, it’s going to kick up a lot of water when it comes in,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm’s forecast path. “And you’re going to end up with really big storm surge and you’re going to end up with really big flood events. And that’s the kind of storm surge that’s life-threatening.”

The National Hurricane Center has extended its hurricane warning for more than 200 miles from the state’s Gulf Coast, from Collier County to the Anclote River, just north of Tampa and Clearwater.

On the forecast track, Ian’s center is expected to pass west of the Florida Keys early Wednesday before closing in on the west coast. Ian’s center is then expected to move over central Florida Wednesday evening and Thursday morning and emerge over the western Atlantic by Thursday evening.

Fort Myers is in the hurricane zone, and Tampa and St. Petersburg could be hit directly by a major hurricane for the first time since 1921.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Indian Pass at the Anclote River, all of the Florida Keys, Flamingo at South Santee River, Flamingo at Chokoloskee, Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay and for southeast Florida from south of Boca Raccoon.

A storm surge warning was in effect for the Lower Florida Keys from Big Pine Key west to Key West, the Suwannee River south to Flamingo, Tampa Bay, the Dry Tortugas, the Flagler Line /Volusia to the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and the Saint John River.

A storm surge watch is in effect for Florida Bay, the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to the South Santee River and south of the Florida Keys from the Card Sound Bridge west to east of Big Pine Key.

“Barrier Islanders who decide not to go do so at their own peril,” Lee County County Executive Roger Desjarlais said early Tuesday. “The best thing they can do is leave.”

Up to 300,000 people could 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 places open as shelters.

“We must do everything to protect our residents. Time is running out,” 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, home to about 250,000 people. , after forecasters widened the hurricane warning zone.

“With the kind of tidal surge we’re talking about, it wouldn’t be uncommon for both islands to be submerged, and that’s a dangerous place,” Desjarlais said. We cannot by law force people to leave the islands, but we strongly recommend that they go.

DeSantis said about 2.5 million people are under some type of evacuation order in the state.

Tampa International Airport suspended all operations Tuesday afternoon due to the hurricane. Travelers were advised to contact their airline for more information. American Airlines, meanwhile, slashed fares for flights from 20 area airports likely to be affected by the storm. The airline was also waiving checked baggage and pet fees to help people in the area evacuate.

Meanwhile, flash flooding and urban flooding were possible with precipitation in the Florida Keys and the Florida Peninsula through the middle of the week, NHC forecasters said. A few tornadoes are possible Tuesday in the Florida Keys and across the southern and central Florida peninsula.

Monroe County emergency management officials said they are working to notify residents of specific details about Ian’s impacts.

In South Florida, schools in Miami-Dade and Broward were announcing closures this week due to Ian. All schools and Monroe County School District offices were closed Tuesday and will remain closed Wednesday due to impacts from Hurricane Ian.

Florida Power & Light was preparing more than 13,000 workers to help respond to Hurricane Ian, company officials said Monday.

The power company said it is prepositioning workers and supplies to respond to any outages from the hurricane, which is expected to eventually make landfall along Florida’s west coast later this week.

Although South Florida is unlikely to be directly affected by Hurricane Ian, flooding was expected across the region over the next two days.

A flood watch was issued for most of South Florida and remained in effect until Thursday morning.

Miami-Dade County crews have been working since last week to conduct pre-storm inspections and lower water levels across the county, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday at a press conference.

The City of Miami opened its emergency operations center at 9 a.m. Tuesday to deal with the expected flooding from Ian.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez reassured residents that all permanent water pumps are working and seven additional portable pumps will be installed as needed.

DeSantis activated the state National Guard ahead of the expected storm impact this week.

The governor’s statement releases emergency protection funds to address potential damage from storm surges, flooding, dangerous winds and other weather conditions across the state.

DeSantis expanded the state of emergency declaration on Saturday to include the entire state.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday night that the football team is relocating football operations to the Miami area in preparation for next weekend’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Florida Gators and UCF Knights moved their games to Sunday while the USF Bulls will now play their game Saturday in Boca Raton.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NBC Chicago

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