Florida under watches and warnings. Hurricane Ian is a Category 2 and strengthening

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

Hurricane Ian’s forecast track was adjusted slightly eastward Monday night and the storm is expected to be a major hurricane as it nears Florida’s west coast, possibly coming ashore between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Ian’s maximum sustained winds have increased to near 105 mph, with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said Monday in its 11 p.m. advisory. Rapid strengthening is expected during the next day or so, and Ian is forecast to become a major hurricane overnight or early Tuesday when it is near western Cuba, and remain a major hurricane over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.

The projected path steers Ian into making a landfall between St. Petersburg and Clearwater as at least a strong Category 2 hurricane between Wednesday and Thursday, the latest forecast shows.

A large swath of Florida’s Gulf Coast fell under hurricane and storm surge watches and warnings on Monday, while the Miami area remained under a flood watch through Thursday as Hurricane Ian set its eye on the Sunshine State.

Excessive rainfall may cause flooding of rivers, creeks, streams and other low-lying and flood-prone areas from Palm Beach southward to mainland Monroe County, according to the National Weather Service in Miami.

An estimated three to eight inches of rain is expected through Thursday in Miami-Dade County with flash and urban flooding possible, the Office of Emergency Management said Monday evening. Tropical storm force winds with potential tornadoes are also possible in the area.

But regardless of any future small shifts in the track, which forecasters warned could continue for the next few days, much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, from Naples northward, faces major risk of coastal flooding.

Jamie Rhome, acting director of the hurricane center, called it a “near worst-case scenario” for Tampa on CNN Monday afternoon.

Evacuations were already starting in the Tampa Bay metro area, home to about 3 million people. Mandatory evacuation orders were announced for the riskiest spots in Tampa Bay, Pinellas and Charlotte Counties to the north and Manatee County to the south, with voluntary evacuations also in place for areas with slightly less risk.

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

More orders will almost certainly follow for other parts of the west coast, including Levy County, site of potential landfall under the current track. Levy is sparsely populated, with just over 40,000 people. All counties in Florida remain under a state of emergency.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended some tolls in the Tampa Bay area, Polk County, parts of the Panhandle and Alligator Alley.

Southeast Florida was no longer in the cone, but rain spinning off the growing hurricane was already soaking Miami-Dade and Broward Monday night. The Lower Keys also remain under a tropical storm warning and the National Hurricane Center warned the entire region will see heavy rains this week, as well as gusty squalls from the strong storm. Power outages could occur.

READ NEXT: Where is Hurricane Ian and when will Florida start to feel it? What the forecast shows

New tropical storm watches were issued Monday evening north of Tampa Bay, and Tampa Bay and areas to the south were upgraded to hurricane warnings, including the Dry Tortugas.

Overnight, Ian became a well-organized hurricane, and forecasters expect it will rapidly intensify to a monster — Category 3 — before crossing Cuba’s west coast early Tuesday.

In a Monday afternoon press conference in Miami, Deanne Criswell, top administrator for FEMA, urged Floridians to evacuate if asked and to keep a close eye on the storm.

“We are ready,” she said. “We will be here through the response.”

Hurricane-force winds could begin to reach Florida’s west coast on Wednesday.
Hurricane-force winds could begin to reach Florida’s west coast on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay faces massive storm surge from Hurricane Ian. Sea level rise could play a role

What will Ian bring to Florida?

The biggest risk that Hurricane Ian brings to Florida — no matter where it makes landfall — is storm surge.

Florida’s west coast, especially Tampa Bay, is one of the most vulnerable spots in the nation to storm surge. The scenario currently forecast is one of the most dangerous setups.

Mandatory, voluntary evacuations ordered in the Tampa area ahead of Hurricane Ian

“Do not be fooled by the forecast of weaker winds. The storm surge can still be massive — higher than anything seen in modern times,” tweeted Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist at Fox Weather.

Much of the state could face storm surge from Hurricane Ian, but Tampa Bay is expected to see the worst of it.
Much of the state could face storm surge from Hurricane Ian, but Tampa Bay is expected to see the worst of it.

The hurricane center is forecasting 5 to 10 feet of storm surge in Tampa Bay, with those totals slightly decreasing further south down the west coast. The Keys, including the Dry Tortugas, could see 2 to 4 feet. And that includes this week’s king tides, the annual highest tides of the year.

“Why this big range of five to ten feet? Because if the center stays a little bit offshore, maybe closer to five, we have to prepare you — and you have to prepare you,” said Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center.

Looking for special needs, pet-friendly shelters in Tampa area ahead of Hurricane Ian?

Another complicating factor that could worsen the storm surge and rain associated with Hurricane Ian is its forward speed, which is expected to drop when it nears Tampa Bay.

Ben Noll, a meteorologist with New Zealand’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, tweeted Monday that Ian’s “forward speed will slow to a crawl as it approaches the state, prolonging wind, surge & rain impacts.”

And while South Florida remains outside of Ian’s cone of concern, the National Weather Service in Miami says the region is still expected to feel it, with storm surge flooding, heavy rain, gusty winds and isolated tornadoes possible through Thursday.

Forecasters say tropical storm conditions could begin Tuesday in the Lower Keys, which are under a tropical storm warning, and in Florida’s west coast, which is under a hurricane warning from Englewood to the Anclote River, including the Tampa Bay area. Hurricane conditions could begin along Florida’s west coast Wednesday.

The hurricane center expects Ian will bring four to six inches of rain in the Florida Keys through Thursday, with other parts of Florida possibly seeing four to eight inches of rain. The central-west part of Florida could see six to 12 inches of rain through Thursday, with some areas possibly seeing up to 20 inches of rain. Southeast Florida and the coastal southwest could see four to six inches of rain and up to 10 inches in spot spots. The northeast could get six to 10 inches, with some areas receiving up to 12 inches, and the remainder of the Central Florida Peninsula could get four to eight inches.

“Widespread considerable flash and urban flooding, and prolonged significant river flooding is likely mid-to-late week across central and northern Florida, southern Georgia, and coastal South Carolina,” the hurricane center said in the 11 p.m. advisory. “Flash and urban flooding is also possible with rainfall across southern Florida through mid week. Limited flash and river flooding are possible over portions of the Southeast mid-to-late week.”

Drew Bartlett, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, said the district is expecting “significant rainfall” this week and already began lowering its canals to make room. He said that Hurricane Ian’s rainfall does not pose an immediate threat to overtop Lake Okeechobee, which is lower than usual for this time of year due to drought conditions.

“Lake Okeechobee is at a good level, such that the Corps has not had to do any water drawdowns ahead of the storm,” he said.

A few tornadoes are possible late Monday night and Tuesday across the Keys and the southern and central Florida Peninsula, according to the hurricane center.

Hurricane Ian Watches/Warnings

Storm surge watch extended north along Florida’s west coast to the Anciote River.

Storm surge warning in effect for the Anclote River southward to Flamingo and the Dry Tortugas.

Hurricane warning in effect for: the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa; Englewood to the Anciote River, including Tampa Bay and the Dry Tortugas.

Tropical storm warning in effect for: Flamingo to Englewood, Lower Florida Keys from the Seven Mile Bridge west to Key West and the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas.

A hurricane watch in effect for north of Anciote River to the Suwannee River and Bonita Beach to Englewood.

Tropical storm watch in effect for the Florida Keys from the Seven Mile Bridge to the Channel 5 Bridge, north of the Suwanee River to Indian Pass, Jupiter Inlet to Altamaha Sound and Lake Okeechobee