A tropical storm watch for the lower Keys took effect Sunday as Florida residents continue to prepare for Ian’s uncertain path.
Three counties of South Florida are still off current runways for a direct hit from Tropical Storm Ian, but all Floridans should prepare for a major storm, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Sunday.
The tropical storm watch from Seven Mile Bridge to Key West, including the Dry Tortugas, was included in a 5 p.m. update by the National Hurricane Center. Tropical storm hour means that tropical storm conditions are possible within 48 hours.
On the forecast track, Ian’s center is expected to pass near or west of the Cayman Islands on Monday and west or near Cuba on Monday night and early Tuesday. Ian will then emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
Models indicate a possible direct hit to the Tampa area or Florida Panhandle.
“Don’t get too hung up on these cones,” DeSantis said at a press conference at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Sunday. “Even if you’re not directly in the path of the storm, there will be quite broad impacts across the state.”
[ RELATED: Everything you need to know heading into the potential hurricane ]
He said there could be severe flooding on Florida’s east coast. And there’s no guarantee that the storm’s path will continue to move westward as it has for the past two days.
“There’s uncertainty. The models don’t match,” he said. “Just don’t think that you don’t need to prepare if you’re not in that eye. The last thing we want is to have it turn east quickly and then have people who aren’t prepared. It’s better to be prepared and not have to use those preparations than the opposite.”
He said that includes an adequate supply of food, water, batteries, medicine and fuel.
Emergency officials said most residents did not need to be evacuated. People should look at it first floridadisaster.org/know to see if they are in the evacuation zone. If not, they should evaluate whether their home can withstand tropical storm or hurricane-force winds.
“We evacuated as many as 2 million residents in Hurricane Irma,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Department of Emergency Management.
DeSantis said he expects heavy rains, strong winds, flash flooding, storm surges and even isolated tornadoes. He declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties “given the uncertainty of the storm”. Previously, a state of emergency was declared for only 24 counties, including Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach.
President Biden also approved a federal emergency statement for Florida that gave him access to FEMA resources.
The state imposed restrictions on commercial trucks and allowed prescriptions or 30-day authorized emergency refills. DeSantis said it has also mobilized 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard to assist with the emergency.
[ MAP: See the latest forecast map for potential Hurricane Ian ]
Ian’s center is expected to cross southwest of Jamaica on Sunday evening and pass near or west of the Cayman Islands early Monday, with a 5 p.m. estimate. Ian will then sail west to Cuba on Monday night and early Tuesday, leaving the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
If Ian lands in 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.
5 p.m. Advisory said a hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman and Cuba’s Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa states. Hurricane warnings indicating hurricane conditions are expected are typically issued 36 hours before the expected first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds.
Shawn Bhatti, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center, said South Florida is outside of uncertainty estimates where the center of a hurricane would be two-thirds of the time. But subtle changes to the track can make a big difference, and the warm waters of the Gulf and possible land interaction with Cuba can create these shifts.
“This weekend, make all preparations for a possible worst-case scenario,” Bhatti said.
On Sunday, the forecast course began to shift east again.
The “reasonable” worst-case scenario currently still includes all the effects associated with a major hurricane. But if the storm continued to shift west, South Florida could only see high waves and strong winds.
As the weekend progresses, the hurricane’s path will become increasingly clear. From Sunday night to Monday morning, forecasters say they’ll have a much better idea of what’s to come and whether South Florida can survive the blow of the storm.
[ READ IN SPANISH: ‘Es una gran tormenta’: DeSantis insta a todos los floridanos a prepararse para Ian. Alerta de tormenta tropical para los Cayos bajos ]
The storm, formerly known as Hermine, continued to bring rain to the Canary Islands on Sunday, after which the remaining low and dissipated.
Hurricane Fiona weakened to a post-tropical cyclone early Sunday and dissipated later in the day.
Forecasters are also watching for a large area of low pressure in the Atlantic that has a 30% chance of developing over the next five days, but the biggest concern is Ian.
Fiona was the first major hurricane of the 2022 season, meaning Category 3 and above.
[ STAY UPDATED with the latest forecast for tropical weather at SunSentinel.com/hurricane ]
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Tropical Storm Gaston continues to weaken and is expected to become a post-tropical hurricane on Sunday.
Hurricane season ends in November. 30. The storm named after Ian will be Julia.
Staff writer Shira Moolten contributed to this report.
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