Ian’s center forecast to stay west of Key West. No Keys evacuation so far


Monroe County officials maintained Sunday that there is still no need to evacuate the Florida Keys after evaluating Tropical Storm Ian’s latest forecast showing it passing the island chain well west of the Dry Tortugas.

Jonathan Rizzo, warning coordination meteorologist with National Weather Service Key West, cautioned that Ian could be a whopping Category 4 storm as it enters the western Florida Straits and Gulf of Mexico. This means Key West up to Marathon could get some nasty weather, and even areas as far north as Ocean Reef could see isolated tornadoes.

County offices, and offices in municipalities like Key West, the city of Layton, Village of Islamorada and city of Marathon, are expected to be open Monday.

“Wait and stay flexible. I think it’s the only thing we can do,” Monroe Mayor David Rice said during a conference call with county, state, local municipal and federal officials Sunday morning. “So far, so good.”

Additionally, students hoping for a day off Monday are also out of luck. Class is in session, says Monroe County School District Superintendent Theresa Axford. She added that many people have parked their cars in the Key West High School parking lot in anticipation of flooding in prone areas of the Southernmost City.

“They need to get those cars out of there,” Axford emphasized.

Rizzo said tropical storm force wind gusts and heavy rains will likely start being felt in Key West and other areas of the Lower and Middle Keys between early Tuesday afternoon into Tuesday night.

This is a slight change in the forecast. Originally, deteriorating weather conditions were forecast to begin affecting the area Monday night, but Rizzo noted the storm is moving slower.

“It is possible conditions won’t be too bad Tuesday morning as well,” he said.

County officials met again Sunday afternoon but agreed to wait until Monday to reevaluate.

The Upper Keys, from Islamorada to Ocean Reef in North Key Largo, are not anticipated to experience much, if any, of the storms high sustained winds or gusts.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, the National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch for the lower Keys from Seven Mile Bridge southward to Key West — including the Dry Tortugas.

Florida’s west coast under tropical storm watch as Ian nears. Storm warning for Lower Keys

“This is not the forecast cone of a chihuahua charging to meet you when you get home from work,” Rizzo said. “This is a charging bull.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Omar Rodríguez Ortiz contributed to this report.