Hurricane Ian is gaining power as it nears Cuba on a path toward Florida, threatening to become the worst storm to hit Tampa in over a century. Ian's winds jumped to 100 miles (161 kilometers) an hour as it churned in the Caribbean about 155 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 5pm New York time.
It started the day at 75 mph. A hurricane watch and storm surge warning is in effect along Florida's west coast, including Tampa Bay. More than 300,000 people are expected to evacuate.
"This is a life threatening situation," the Brad Reinhart, a hurricane specialist at the center, said in his analysis. "Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials."
Tropical storm winds could reach Florida late Tuesday, with hurricane conditions arriving Wednesday morning, bringing the potential for significant river flooding across central parts of the state.
"Hurricane Ian is fast becoming the powerful storm it was long predicted to be over the scalding waters of the western Caribbean," Ryan Truchelut, president of WeatherTiger, said in an email. "While the range of landfall possibilities remains broad due to Ian's shallow angle of approach to Florida's Gulf Coast, it is increasingly certain that the state will see widespread surge, wave and rain impacts no matter the specific outcome."
Ian's center is set to pass over western Cuba, where the storm surge could raise water levels by as much as 14 feet (4 meters) above normal, according to the hurricane center. Rains could produce flash flooding and mudslides in parts of Cuba.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel warned the Communist nation Monday that it would be facing a "challenging week." Hurricane alerts were issued for seven western provinces including the capital, Havana.
Ian will ride up Florida's west coast, dragging its most powerful side along the coastline before making landfall by the end of the week.
"It is going to be a very dangerous storm," said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.
Ian's winds are forecast to peak at 140 miles per hour late Tuesday through Wednesday, before dropping to 120 mph on Thursday, the center said. The storm will encounter wind shear in 36 to 48 hours, which will hold it back from gaining even more strength.
Still, Hurricane Ian could be the worst storm to hit Tampa in 101 years, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research. The area has had many close calls in recent years, but the last devastating strike on the Tampa-St. Petersburg area was a 1921 storm that would have caused $30 billion today.
On its current track, Ian could bring tropical-storm strength winds to more than half the orange-growing acreage in the state, Watson said.
Initial estimates call for a storm surge of 5 to 10 feet in Tampa Bay and along the area's shoreline.
Fuel and Fertilizer
Demand for diesel for generators in Florida has soared by more than 10 times the norm, said Eliot Vancil, president of Fuel Logic, a distributor in the state. Requests are coming from nursing homes, grocery stores, hospitals and the like, with demand heavily focused in Tampa, he said in a phone interview. There is no shortage of fuel in the state yet, but "there is a shortage of time to get it done" before the storm, he said.
Fertilizer producer Mosaic Co. said it's finishing storm preparations at its phosphate mining and production facilities in Florida and sites in Louisiana. Employees at its headquarters in downtown Tampa and other Florida locations are working remotely.
Ian is expected to miss most of the energy infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, though Chevron Corp. and BP Plc said they've shut some offshore oil production platforms in the region and evacuated employees ahead of the storm.
Ian is forecast to be a Category 4 hurricane off Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, and could push a storm surge of 15 feet into the shoreline, Tim Dudley, county emergency management director, said in a YouTube post. Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders have been issued and the county is opening shelters, Bonnie Wise, the county administrator, said in a briefing posted on YouTube. The county expects to evacuate more than 300,000 people, she said.
Tampa Electric said Monday it may proactively cut power to a part of downtown Tampa early Wednesday to avoid serious damage to its equipment from an expected saltwater storm surge.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Florida on Saturday, freeing federal disaster aid to the state. He also postponed a scheduled trip on Tuesday to the state that included a Democratic National Committee rally in Orlando. Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency across Florida and warned residents to prepare.
Ian is the second destructive hurricane to rip across the Atlantic in less than a week, following Hurricane Fiona. Fiona struck Atlantic Canada over the weekend, causing extensive damage, power outages and flooding across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Damages to the region are estimated at $3.5 billion, though secondary factors and rain may push costs above $4.5 billion, according to Enki Research's Watson.