All of Cuba lost power and at least two people died as Hurricane Ian swept through the country on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post’s Matthew Hay Brown and Ana Vanessa Herrero.
On Wednesday, the storm neared Florida’s west coast, and meteorologists expected it to make landfall between Fort Myers and Sarasota County in the late morning or early afternoon, per the Tampa Bay Times. In a news conference Wednesday morning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said “the impact of the storm is going to be enormous,” according to the New York Times. “It’s going to be a tragic event in many ways.”
The storm made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province early Tuesday as a Category 3 hurricane, writes CNN’s Patrick Oppmann, Aya Elamroussi and Heather Chen. Up to 16 inches of rain were expected in parts of Cuba. Forecasts of flash floods and mudslides led more than 38,000 people to be evacuated from Pinar del Rio before the storm, per CNN. Buildings and infrastructure in the province experienced significant damages, according to the Post.
Work crews had begun restoring power Wednesday morning, but authorities warned the process could take time, the Post reports.
After passing over Cuba, Ian rapidly intensified into a Category 4 storm. Its winds increased from 120 miles per hour to 155 miles per hour in mere hours, according to live updates from the Washington Post. Ian’s top wind speeds are just 2 miles per hour shy of a Category 5 hurricane—and only two storms of that strength have made landfall in the United States in the last 30 years, writes the Times.
Florida’s west coast is already feeling the initial effects of the storm. Tropical storm-strength winds started in Tampa Bay around 8:00 a.m., according to the Tampa Bay Times. As of 12:54 p.m., over 278,000 customers in western Florida were without power, according to poweroutage.us.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Florida will soon face “catastrophic storm surge, winds and flooding,” writes the Post.
9/28 11am EDT: Eyewall of #Ian moving onshore! Catastrophic storm surge along with destructive waves are expected along the southwest Florida coast from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor. Residents should urgently follow evacuation orders in effect. pic.twitter.com/a82s6OGus6— NHC Storm Surge (@NHC_Surge) September 28, 2022
Storm surge, in which strong winds push ocean water ashore, is the hurricane’s most concerning aspect, said Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell on Tuesday, according to ABC News. Surge is expected up and down Florida’s west coast, with 12 to 18 feet of surge predicted from Englewood to Bonita Beach, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Some parts of Florida are already experiencing record-high surge levels, with water in Naples rising six feet in five hours this morning, according to live updates from CNN.
The storm is expected to maintain some of its intensity as it moves across the state, per CNN. Forecasters said it could also cause power outages and damage in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina later in the week, according to the Times.
Hurricanes that rapidly intensify are expected to become more common as global temperatures rise with climate change, Chelsea Harvey writes for Environment & Energy News. Research suggests that a warmer atmosphere enables hurricanes to hold more water and move more slowly, leading to higher amounts rainfall during storms, per the publication.