By Judson Jones, CNN Meteorologist
Landfall is within hours.
What once looked like a possible Friday landfall for Hurricane Ian is now expected in the early afternoon Wednesday.
Ian’s eyewall, the most dangerous part of the storm with the strongest wind, heaviest rain and worst storm surge, is only about 40 miles from the coastline and will begin bringing some of the worst conditions in the next several hours.
Ian has grown into a powerful Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph — just two mph short of a Category 5 storm — that stretch outward up to 40 miles from its center.
That means when it makes landfall, between Tampa and Fort Myers, hurricane-force winds could still be felt in either city.
There might be some fluctuations in intensity before landfall, but no matter what, this will be a significant hurricane hitting the western shore of Florida. Tropical storm-force winds are likely to be felt across the Florida peninsula as the storm makes its way across the state Wednesday into Thursday before moving off the eastern coast.
So, there’s the wind — which will be extremely dangerous and is what most people think of when they think of hurricanes. But then there is the storm surge.
The Florida Keys already got walloped overnight with a surge from the storm. So, we know Ian is capable of producing a dangerous surge.
The highest risk of storm surge is from Naples to the Sarasota area, the National Hurricane Center said. Englewood to Bonita Beach, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda as well as Cape Coral and Fort Myers, could see a “catastrophic storm surge” of 12 to 18 feet.
Don’t let your guard down if you don’t live near landfall
Then one of the more widespread worries is extreme rainfall. This will stretch from where Ian makes landfall in the Carolinas.
“Widespread, life-threatening, catastrophic flooding is expected across portions of central Florida with considerable flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina,” the hurricane center said. “Widespread, prolonged major and record river flooding expected across central Florida.”
The Weather Prediction Center has issued its highest outlook, level 4 of 4, for extreme rainfall.
Rainfall rates will likely exceed 3 inches per hour today and will result in at least a foot of rain across central Florida, the center said. And that is just today’s estimated totals. It doesn’t include Thursday, when more rain could fall over the same areas.
There is also the tornado risk
“Several tornadoes will be possible across the Florida peninsula today, in association with Hurricane Ian,” the prediction center said.
Tornadoes are frequently associated with hurricanes and tropical storms and can occur hundreds of miles from the center of the hurricane. Tornadoes in tropical systems tend to be short-lived and difficult to predict, with much less lead time compared to tornadoes produced by supercells and strong thunderstorms in the central Plains and South.
The most likely area for tornadic development will be along the Space Coast and inland toward Orlando.
Then there is another risk that made a few of us do a double look this morning.
Hurricane Ian will draw strong northerly winds across much of the Southeast. This, combined with relatively dry air for the South, has triggered the Storm Prediction Center to issue a critical fire outlook — level 2 of 3 — for portions of the region from Louisiana to Florida. Including cities like New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and Tallahassee, Florida.
This risk just means if a wildfire were to start, conditions would be conducive to it spreading.
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