Hurricane Ian, now Category 3, to intensify before making landfall in Florida

Hurricane Ian made landfall in western Cuba on Tuesday as forecasters warned that it will intensify into a catastrophic Category 4 storm before it hits Florida’s Gulf Coast, where millions of people have been ordered to evacuate.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Ian made landfall southwest of the town of La Coloma, Cuba, as a Category 3 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph.

The storm — located about 280 miles south-southwest of Sarasota and 100 miles south-southwest of Dry Tortugas National Park near the Florida Keys — was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph before making landfall again.

A satellite image of Hurricane Ian.
A satellite image released by NASA shows Hurricane Ian growing stronger as it barrels toward Cuba on Monday. (NASA Worldview/Earth Observing System Data and Information System via AP)

“The NHC intensity forecast continues to call for an extremely dangerous hurricane landfall for southwestern Florida,” the hurricane center said in an advisory.

In addition, the National Weather Service extended a tropical storm warning to Georgia, and a tropical watch to South Carolina.

Tropical-storm-force winds were expected in Florida late Tuesday, reaching hurricane force Wednesday morning.

A chart showing that tropical-storm-force winds are expected to arrive in south Florida by Tuesday afternoon.
Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to arrive in south Florida on Tuesday afternoon. (National Hurricane Center)

Heavy rainfall (forecast up to 16 inches in some areas) coupled with a life-threatening storm surge (up to 12 feet in Charlotte Harbor) have officials bracing for Ian’s impact.

A map showing the storm surge levels that are expected in Florida as Hurricane Ian approaches.
A life-threatening storm surge is expected as Hurricane Ian approaches Florida. (National Hurricane Center)

“In some areas there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “When you have 5 to 10 feet of storm surge, that is not something you want to be a part of.”

At least eight counties in Florida have issued evacuation orders, including Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, the state’s third most populous city.

DeSantis said that 2.5 million people in the state were under some sort of evacuation order and urged those who are to heed it.

“Mother Nature is a very fearsome adversary,” he said.

A house with the windows covered with wood boards spray-painted with the words: Go away and Ian
A house with boarded-up windows on Monday, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ian, in Indian Shores, Fla. (Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images)

“People on the barrier islands who decide not to go, they do so at their own peril,” Roger Desjarlais, Lee County’s county manager, said early Tuesday. “The best thing they can do is leave.”

“We’re talking about 5- to 10-foot storm surges, which are not survivable,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Fox News. “You can shelter a little bit against the wind. You can hunker down in place, but you cannot shelter against water [with] 3-, 4-, 5-, 6- or 7-foot storm surges. When it gets that high, you can’t survive it.

“The only way to avoid dying in that is to leave when they tell you to leave,” he added.

For those not evacuating, weather officials stressed that time is of the essence.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the NHC tweeted. “Today is your last day to prepare and follow evacuation orders from local officials.”

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell speaks from a podium at the White House, with an American flag in the background..
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell at a briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

At the White House, President Biden held separate calls with the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater to discuss planning and preparations for the storm, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during her daily briefing.

“This could be a very severe hurricane, life-threatening and devastating in its impact,” Biden said before a previously scheduled event in the Rose Garden.

Biden said he has already approved Florida’s request for an emergency declaration, and directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send personnel to the state ahead of the storm.

“Our biggest concern as we wait for this storm to make landfall is storm surge,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said at the briefing. “If people are told to evacuate by their local officials, please listen to them. The decision you choose to make may mean the difference between life and death.”

“Evacuate when ordered,” Biden said. “Your safety is more important than anything.”