Published: Sep. 25, 2022, 7:19 a.m. | AL.com
Tropical Storm Ian is expected to intensify quickly today and could become a hurricane tonight as it passes by the Cayman Islands on the way toward Cuba. The longer-range path for Ian, which could become a major hurricane late Monday, is still very uncertain, and areas from Alabama to the Florida peninsula remain at risk.
WEATHER UPDATE - Ian was still in a tropical storm stage early Sunday morning as it neared the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.
But the National Hurricane Center said the storm was poised to explosively strengthen today.
Ian is expected to become a hurricane later today and could be a Category 3 hurricane by Monday night as it nears Cuba.
Then the hurricane center’s forecast track takes Ian into the southeastern Gulf, where it could continue to intensify, possibly reaching Category 4 strength as it parallels the west coast of Florida.
The forecast shows Ian weakening but still at hurricane strength when it makes landfall early Friday morning on Florida’s Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee.
That track forecast is not a sure thing by any means. The hurricane center said there is “significant” uncertainty about the longer-range forecast, with the main forecast models varying widely on a possible track for Ian, especially after 72 hours.
“... it cannot be overstated that significant uncertainty remains in Ian’s long-range prediction,” the hurricane center said Sunday morning.
Some models are betting on a track more to the east, which would take the center of the storm into the west-central Florida peninsula. Other models take a western track, taking Ian into the central or western Florida Panhandle.
Forecasters split the difference when drawing up their forecast track, which is relatively unchanged from Saturday night.
The hurricane center said another NOAA G-IV synoptic surveillance mission was collecting data around the storm this morning, which will hopefully reduce some of the model spread, and National Weather Service offices nationwide are sending up extra weather balloons to add more data to be fed into the models.
Regardless, Ian could be a large storm by the time it nears landfall, and it could spread damaging winds, flooding rain, and storm surges far from where the center moves onshore. Residents along the northern Gulf Coast, including Alabama, and the Florida peninsula were urged to have their hurricane supplies stocked up and ready to go -- just in case.
Part of Alabama’s coastal area remained inside the fringes of the five-day forecast cone on Sunday morning, and southeast Alabama was included in the cone as well near the end of the forecast period.
The so-called “cone of uncertainty” is the hurricane center’s forecast of where the center of the storm could go. Impacts from the storm will be likely well outside of that cone, so forecasters urged those along the coast to not let their guard down -- even if they weren’t included in the cone.
As of 7 a.m. CDT Sunday, the center of Tropical Storm Ian was located about 320 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman, or 590 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba, and was tracking to the west-northwest at 12 mph.
Ian had 50 mph winds, unchanged from Saturday night. Hurricane-force winds begin at 74 mph.
The hurricane center said tropical storm conditions will begin on Grand Cayman tonight, and hurricane conditions could begin early Monday. Tropical storm conditions will be possible on the other Cayman Islands tonight or early Monday.
As of Cuba, tropical storm conditions could begin there late Monday, with hurricane conditions possible by Monday night or early Tuesday, forecasters said.
Ian may be felt in the Florida Keys starting late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Here are the watches and warnings as of Sunday morning:
* A hurricane warning continues for Grand Cayman.
* A hurricane watch is in effect for the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio, and Artemisa.
* A tropical storm watch is in effect for Little Cayman, Cayman Brac, and the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque, and Matanzas
Ian could bring a significant storm surge of 9 to 14 feet to parts of western Cuba from Monday night into Tuesday, according to the hurricane center.
Ian could bring 3 to 6 inches of rain, with local amounts up to 8 inches, to parts of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Western Cuba could get 4 to 8 inches with up to 12 inches possible.
The Florida Keys and the western peninsula of Florida are in line to receive 2 to 4 inches, with local amounts up to 6 inches possible.
The hurricane center said Ian’s rain could cause flash flooding and mudslides in Jamaica and Cuba. Flash flooding will be possible in the Keys and the Florida peninsula through midweek.
Here is a look at the areas most likely to experience tropical storm-force winds, and when they could arrive. The forecast shows the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coasts could see those winds Wednesday night into Thursday morning.