Tropical Storm Ian offshore of Florida, and forecast to turn into a hurricane again

This article tracking Hurricane Ian is available for free as a public service to all readers.

Tropical Storm Ian on Thursday moved off Florida’s east coast and into the Atlantic, where it’s expected to strengthen into a hurricane again as it approaches South Carolina.

And just because Ian is no longer on land, doesn’t mean it won’t continue to affect the Sunshine State.

The National Hurricane Center in a 2 p.m. advisory said it expects Ian will continue to produce “life threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds across portions of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.”

“Major-to-record river flooding will continue across central Florida through next week,” the hurricane center said, with “considerable” flash, urban, and river flooding possible across coastal portions of northeast Florida, southeastern Georgia and eastern South Carolina through Friday.

Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane again in the Atlantic.
Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane again in the Atlantic.

Where is Ian going?

As of 2 p.m., Ian was about 40 miles north-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and about 275 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. It has maximum sustained winds near 70 mph with higher gusts and is moving north-northeast at 9 mph.

The hurricane center said Ian produced “catastrophic flooding” across east-central Florida Thursday as it headed to the Atlantic. But, as of Thursday afternoon, it doesn’t seem to have caused the widespread damage seen along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Now that it’s in the Atlantic’s warm waters, Ian is expected to pick up speed and strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph by the time it nears the coast of South Carolina Friday.

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It’s expected to make landfall somewhere along the South Carolina coast late Friday or early Saturday and should then start to weaken as it moves farther inland across the Carolinas this weekend.

And while Ian is much weaker than when it hit Florida’s southwest coast as a devastating Category 4 hurricane Wednesday afternoon, it remains a large system, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 415 miles from the center.

What type of hazards will Ian bring?

Forecasters say hurricane conditions are likely by Thursday night along the coasts of northeastern Florida and Georgia, which are under a hurricane watch. By Friday morning, hurricane-force winds could reach the coast of South Carolina, which is under a hurricane warning.

The hurricane center expects Ian could produce 2 to 4 more inches of rain from east central to northeast Florida, with storm totals in some areas possibly reaching 20 inches.

While tropical storm warnings for Florida’s Gulf Coast and Lake Okeechobee was discontinued at 11 a.m. Thursday, a tropical storm warning remains in effect from Vero Beach, Florida, to the Savannah River in South Carolina.

A storm surge warning also remains for Florida’s east coast from the Flagler-Volusia Line to the Little River Inlet, which is near the border between North and South Carolina. A flood warning was also extended until at least early Sunday for several rivers along the state’s west coast, including Manatee River in Manatee County, Hillsborough River near Hillsborough River State Park in Hillsborough County, and Myakka River at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota County.

Ian approached Florida on Wednesday with 155 mph winds, just shy of Cat 5 status, before weakening to 150 mph by landfall. The Cat 4 storm made landfall around 3 p.m. Wednesday near Cayo Costa, an island just north of Captiva and off the coast of Fort Myers with few full-time residents and reachable only by boat. A second landfall on the mainland, near Pirate Harbor and north of Punta Gorda, happened around 4:35 p.m.

And it left destruction in its wake along the state’s west coast. The powerful storm submerged streets in Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Naples — washing away stop signs, cars, boats and homes. A section of the only causeway to Sanibel collapsed. The storm also damaged the state’s power grid and left over two million Floridians without power.

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Storm surge was the biggest threat for Florida’s west coast Wednesday, when the hurricane center predicted 12 to 18 feet of storm surge would be possible along Southwest Florida’s coast from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor. And in South Florida, Key West broke a storm surge record this week with more than two feet of storm surge.

Miami Herald staff writer Alex Harris contributed to this report.