Forecasters say Ian is set to spend days dumping rain on Florida after making landfall as a hurricane, a troubling scenario that could lead to widespread flooding and damage.
The storm is expected to slow as it makes landfall, bringing prolonged rainfall of up to 2 feet in some areas susceptible to localized flooding.
A Tuesday forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm could slowly cross the state from Wednesday to
Ian is likely to impact the entire state, with areas in his direct path expected to experience widespread damage and winds over 100 mph, according to Anthony Reyes of the National Weather Service in Miami. Additionally, coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico are even more prone to storm surge flooding.
Here’s what to know about the impact of Hurricane Ian’s winds and flooding on Florida:
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How much rain will Florida get?
Parts of central Florida could see 12 to 16 inches of rain with 2 feet possible in isolated areas, according to the National Hurricane Center. Other areas of the state might see between 6 and 8 inches, with isolated areas up to a foot.
Some areas on the state’s west coast, such as Charlotte Harbour, should expect to see 8 to 12 foot storm surge, the center said.
“In some areas there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surges,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday.
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What makes Ian dangerous?
Ian is expected to make landfall in Florida somewhere between Tampa and Fort Myers, then continue through central Florida as it weakens. It will already be moving as slow as 5 mph when it hits, which means its path through the state will be slow.
“When these types of systems slow down, they allow an even longer period of time for the same places to receive rainfall,” Reyes said. “This exacerbates the potential for localized flooding.”
Reyes said metropolitan areas concentrated in the storm’s path are particularly at risk. Flash and urban flooding is expected mid to late week in central and northern Florida, southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
Ponds could help reduce the impacts of flooding
Florida’s flood management system includes tens of thousands of stormwater ponds, which are built in developed areas to help collect and store runoff.
In residential and commercial areas where stormwater ponds are common, a “buffer” can help reduce the impacts of flooding, said Eban Bean, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida.
“While they won’t be able to capture all that volume of stormwater, they will help by slowly releasing that water downstream rather than letting it all in at once whenever the rain is most intense,” Bean said.
Even still, the stormwater ponds are simply not built to handle the amount of rainwater expected with Ian, and excess volume will likely cause flooding that will persist while the attenuation systems drain it. But neighborhoods on Ian’s path with stormwater ponds, like Lakewood Ranch which has more than 300, may fare better than those without.
How long will it take to recover?
In parts of the state, structural damage from hurricane-level winds could render some residential buildings “uninhabitable” for weeks or even months, according to Miami’s National Weather Service. said.
As for flooding, the water could take several days to fully drain due to Florida’s relatively flat topography, Bean said. And recovery also depends on subsequent weather activity, Bean said; if other tropical systems form, it could take much longer.
“This is going to be a test of our (stormwater) system,” Bean said.