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Hurricane Ian likely to hit Florida’s west coast on unusual path

Schools are closing in Tampa area, as residents prepare for what could be a Category 3 or 4 hurricane early this week

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A satellite image released by NASA shows Hurricane Ian over the Caribbean Sea moving near the Cayman Islands and closer to western Cuba.

This Sept. 25, 2022, satellite image released by NASA shows Hurricane Ian over the Caribbean Sea moving near the Cayman Islands and closer to western Cuba. Forecasters say Hurricane Ian is nearing Cuba on a track to strike Florida in as a Category 4 as early as Wednesday, Sept. 28.

NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System via Associated Press

Florida’s bracing for a hit from Hurricane Ian midweek and Gov. Ron DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency as Floridians scramble to prepare. Meanwhile, it could make landfall in Cuba as early as Monday night.

The hurricane started the day as a Category 1 hurricane Monday and weather experts are predicting it will be a Category 3 or 4 by nightfall. If it lives up to predictions, Hurricane Ian could have sustained winds between 130 mph and 156 mph when it hits Florida.

USA Today quoted AccuWeather senior meteorologist Adam Douty: “In just a few days, Ian is likely to be a dangerous, major hurricane.”

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged residents to load up on food, water, medicine, batteries and fuel. He said it was too soon to determine when or even if Ian will make landfall, but that evacuations may be ordered in coming days,” the article said.

“Expect heavy rains, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surge and even isolated tornadoes. Make preparations now,” he said Sunday, per USA Today. “Anticipate power outages. That is something that is likely to happen with a hurricane of this magnitude.”

The National Hurricane Center and AccuWeather reported that Hurricane Ian is likely to travel up Florida’s west coast, which is an extremely rare hurricane route. Most travel north and northeast, skirting the east side of the Sunshine State. By 8 a.m. ET Monday, the storm, with sustained winds of 75 mph, was moving northwest at 14 mph from its position 90 miles west-southwest of Grand Cayman Island and 275 miles from Cuba.

Because of uncertainty about the hurricane’s path, all of Florida is preparing, according to CNN. Landfall in Florida — unless Ian veers — could come as early as Tuesday, though that’s more likely Wednesday, preceded by tropical storm conditions. Predictions are it will reach Category 4 before it reaches Florida, then weaken somewhat but still be plenty dangerous.

According to the National Weather Service, heavy rainfall might occur in north Florida, the Florida panhandle and the southeast United States through Saturday. Central Florida, which is already saturated by recent storms, may experience flooding. The National Hurricane Center said hurricane-force winds already spread more than 15 miles from the storm’s center.

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for part of Hillsborough County and other parts of the area have a voluntary evacuation.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castro tweeted: “Are you #TampaReady? It’s never too early to prepare.”

The City of Tampa account tweeted “SANDBAGS! 21.000 sandbags were distributed yesterday at our @tampaparksrec sandbag locations.”

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that gas stations could even run out of fuel as the hurricane approaches. It noted that the surge in customers was not expected to spike the price of fuel, since refineries are not in Ian’s path.

The Tampa Bay Times said that shoppers on Sunday bought nearly 1,000 cases of bottled water within just hours. Local10.com reported that Zoo Miami will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, while items and objects that could become airborne will be stowed and the animals safely secured inside.

In Lake County, officials already plan to dismiss schools an hour early Tuesday and keep them closed entirely on Wednesday and Thursday. After-school events were also canceled, according to WFTV9.

The Tampa Bay Times separately reported that while Tampa schools are closed, families that live in Tampa can bring K-12 students to one of 16 parks and recreation sites that are being used as “out of school camp” locations for families in Hillsborough County, where schools are being closed through Thursday due to the impending storm.