Hurricane Ian is currently on a path that will likely take it into the Gulf of Mexico as a major hurricane this week. The FOX Forecast Center expects Hurricane Ian to rapidly intensify into a major hurricane by Monday night as it approaches western Cuba.
Florida’s Gulf Coast from Englewood to the Anclocote River, including Tampa Bay is under a Hurricane Watch ahead of the expected wind, rain and storm surge from Hurricane Ian. Given Florida’s unique coastline, the topography lends itself to the state being highly susceptible to storm-surge flooding during hurricanes.
Evacuations ordered along Florida‘s west coast
Several counties along Florida’s west coast have already issued mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders, including more than 300,000 people in the Tampa Bay area, which is in Hillsborough County.
According to the FOX Forecast Center, storm surge could reach as high as 10 feet along portions of Florida’s west coast, though the entire western Florida coast is susceptible to some level of storm surge.
Storm surge is the rise of water levels caused directly by a storm and does not take into account rainfall or wave size, which can add additional feet on top of a storm’s surge.
“In order to protect residents, we are issuing a mandatory evacuation order for Zone A, recommending a voluntary evacuation for Zone B and opening emergency shelters,” Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise said.
Wise said the evacuation orders and opening of shelters began at 2 p.m. Monday.
“We expect to have to evacuate 300,000 people, and that will take some time,” she said. “That’s why we are starting this today.”
Evacuations haven’t been limited to only Hillsborough County.
- Charlotte County: Emergency Managers issued a mandatory evacuation for Zone A Red areas.
- Collier County: Voluntary evacuations are in place for Zone A.
- Hernando County: Voluntary evacuations are in place for all zones for residents west of U.S.-19. A shelter will open Tuesday at 9 a.m.
- Hillsborough County: Mandatory evacuation for Zone A. Zone B is under a voluntary evacuation and people living in manufactured and mobile homes are encouraged to evacuate. Shelters opened Monday afternoon.
- Manatee County: Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for Zone A and voluntary evacuation for Zone B effective at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
- Pasco County: Evacuation is mandatory for Zone A and anyone living in a mobile home, RV or manufactured home. Shelters open at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
- Pinellas County: Zone A is under a mandatory evacuation. Zones B and C will be under mandatory evacuation starting Tuesday at 7 a.m.
- Sarasota County: Managers issued a mandatory evacuation for Zone A, all RVs, boats and mobile homes. Shelters open at noon Tuesday.
Wise also said issuing mandatory evacuations wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“We did not make this decision easily,” Wise said. “But the storm poses a serious threat, and we must do everything we can to protect our residents.”
Wise said shelters should only be used as a last resort.
“They are not comfortable places,” she said. “They could be crowded, and they could be noisy, and you could be in a shelter for days.”
Instead, residents are asked to check with friends, relatives and co-workers who live at least 20 miles from the coast for a place to stay if needed.
“We’re expecting sustained tropical or hurricane winds to our barrier islands and coastal communities for as long as 48 hours, with the earliest arrival predicted for 8 p.m. Tuesday,” said Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes. “This is a worst-case scenario with a very strong, slow-moving storm just to the west of us.”
Airports and ports to close
Officials will also close the Clearwater-Saint Petersburg airport at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Tampa International Airport will close at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Port Tampa Bay will close at 8 a.m. Tuesday to marine interests. Officials will try to keep Port Manatee open throughout the storm.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urges Floridians to prepare now
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Florida over the weekend, and President Joe Biden approved Florida’s emergency declaration on Saturday.
“Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a significant risk of life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of the week,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Monday.
That approval authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts for the state.
DeSantis said preparations are well underway to position crews and equipment across the state to prepare for Hurricane Ian and to respond to clean-up efforts after the storm moves out of the region.
DeSantis said five urban search and rescue teams have been activated and will deploy to impacted areas.
The Florida Department of Emergency Management has also loaded 360 trailers with more than 2 million meals and more than 1 million gallons of water in preparation for distribution in areas affected by Hurricane Ian.
And with power outages likely, utility providers have more than 25,000 linesmen staged and prepared to begin power restoration efforts once it’s safe to do so.
Florida activates National Guard
Because of Hurricane Ian, 5,000 members of the Florida National Guard have been activated and have been pre-positioned at armories across the state. In addition, 2,000 National Guard members from Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina have also been activated to assist.
Nearly 300 ambulances, paratransit buses and other support vehicles have also been deployed to areas where Hurricane Ian could have a major impact.
“I know we’ve got a lot of people that have moved to the state of Florida,” DeSantis said on Sunday. “Just make sure you make your preparations.”
He also warned residents that power outages and fuel disruptions were likely due to Hurricane Ian.
“That’s something that could happen with a hurricane of this magnitude,” DeSantis said. “And also anticipate that in certain areas of the state, if you are in a very vulnerable area, there may even be evacuations that are issued.“
Florida residents took the weekend to prepare for Hurricane Ian
“If it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come, but it’s better to be prepared,” said Tampa resident Jamie Cruz.
Cruz, like thousands of other Floridians, spent the weekend standing in line waiting for sandbags.
“I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn’t know it would be that bad,” he said about the line of people waiting for sandbags. “I waited in line for three hours.”
Cars lined the streets around areas where sandbags were being distributed with the hopes that they could help save their homes from possible flooding from Hurricane Ian.
“Most of Tampa Bay is in low elevation,” said St. Pete Beach resident David Beshears. “So, whether you’re directly on the water or close to the water, it’s worrisome.”
The Beshears purchased their dream home on St. Pete Beach a year ago, and they’re still renovating.
“The anxiety is definitely here,” Michelle Beshears said. “For sure.”
Schools closed as Florida prepares for Hurricane Ian
Many schools, colleges and universities have been closed for the rest of the week, so families could prepare for Hurricane Ian and allow officials to use those facilities as shelters for people fleeing the hurricane.
Schools have been closed in Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, Desoto, Dixie, Gilchrist, Glades, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Monroe, Okeechobee, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, and Sumpter Counties.
Several colleges have also been closed:
- Hillsborough Community College
- St. Petersburg College
- State College of Florida
- New College of Florida
- University of South Florida
- University of Central Florida
- Florida Southwestern State College
- Florida A&M University
- Florida Gulf Coast University
- Florida State University