Hurricane Ian expected to form Sunday; South Florida may be spared

Tropical Storm Ian is expected to become a hurricane Sunday, and then grow into the season’s second major hurricane by midweek.

Ian is forecast to produce heavy rain, and flooding particularly over western Cuba as a major hurricane, meaning Category 3 or above.

Western Cuba and Grand Cayman were under a hurricane warning Sunday. Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds are expected in portions of western Cuba beginning late Monday.

All signs point to Ian reaching Florida as a weakened hurricane. The most recent forecasts suggest southeast Florida may dodge the initial impact, unlike the rest of the state, as the storm’s potential path shifts north and west.

At the 11 am advisory, Ian was moving west-northwest at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds remaining at 50 mph. At 11 am, it was 300 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and 570 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba.

On the forecast track, the center of Ian is forecast to pass well southwest of Jamaica on Sunday, and pass near or west of the Cayman Islands early Monday. Ian will then move near or over western Cuba Monday night and early Tuesday.

If Ian does make landfall on Cuba, it is expected to do so as a major hurricane (sustained winds of at least 111 mph).

It will then emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

The forecast track has continued to move west since the last update. However, much uncertainty remains.

“There is significant spread noted even among the GFS ensemble members, with positions that range from the north-central Gulf of Mexico to the west coast of Florida,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 pm advisory Saturday.

Ian will likely drop heavy rainfall, flash flooding, and possible mudslides in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, with heavy rains in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in the next few days.

That doesn’t mean South Floridians should rejoice, however. The cone could still shift back east, and even if it doesn’t, the cone shows only where the center of the hurricane will likely be, not the havoc it may wreak.

“I know a lot of South Floridians, they kind of look at the graphic and take that as the holy grail,” said Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami, on Saturday afternoon. “But it’s important to remember there’s volatility with that and impacts extend far outside what the cone is able to show.”

Those impacts include extreme flooding, tropical storm-force winds, and tornadoes.

The cone of uncertainty forecasts where the center of a hurricane will be two-thirds of the time, Bhatti said. But subtle shifts in the track can make a huge difference, and the warm waters of the Gulf and possible land interaction with Cuba could create those shifts.

“This weekend, have all preparations in place for a potential worst-case scenario,” said Bhatti.

The “reasonable” worst-case scenario right now still includes all the impacts associated with a major hurricane. But if the storm keeps shifting west, South Florida could see only high waves and gusty winds.

As the weekend progresses, the hurricane’s path will become increasingly clear. By Sunday night into Monday morning, forecasters say they’ll have a much better idea of ​​what’s to come and whether South Florida might be spared the brunt of the storm.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday amended the state of emergency to encompass all of Florida. Previously, the state of emergency had been issued only for 24 counties, including Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach. The Florida National Guard will be activated and on standby to respond as needed, the emergency order says.

Warm waters in the Caribbean and the Gulf will strengthen the storm into a hurricane as early as Sunday, with “rapid intensification” possible, the National Weather Service said Saturday. South Florida could start to see heavy rainfall on Monday, presenting a risk of limited flash and urban flooding, according to the latest advisory.

Meanwhile, tropical storm-force winds may begin in South Florida as early as Monday night, but are most likely to begin Tuesday evening.

Robert Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, encouraged South Floridians to prepare over the weekend.

“It’s time to start getting those hurricane plans out, making sure everyone has all the things they need in their kits, water, know where your insurance papers are,” Garcia said. “Stay attentive to what’s going on with the forecast. Things are probably going to progress through the weekend and into early next week where that attention will be necessary.”

Florida’s Division of Emergency Management issued a news release Friday announcing that the state is preparing for potential landfall and urging Floridians to prepare their homes for the storm.

“It is critical that Floridians remain vigilant and prepared — it only takes one storm to cause costly or irreversible damage to your home or business,” FDEM director Kevin Guthrie said in the release.

The National Hurricane Center is also tracking other Atlantic storms.

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Tropical Storm Hermine on Sunday continued to bring rain to the Canary Islands and is poised to become a remnant low, forecasters said.

What was Hurricane Fiona had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone by early Sunday, and the National Hurricane Center was no longer posting advisories about the storm.

Fiona was the first major hurricane of the 2022 season, meaning Category 3 and above.

Forecasters are also monitoring a broad area of ​​low pressure in the Atlantic that has a 20% chance of developing in the next five days, although Ian is the biggest concern.

“The one to watch is definitely the system moving into the southeastern Caribbean,” said Eric Blake, a forecaster for the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical Storm Gaston is continuing to weaken and is expected to become a post-tropical cyclone Sunday morning.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30. The next named storm after Ian would be Julia.

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