The system — formerly known as Tropical Depression Nine — is expected to strengthen further as it approaches and crosses western Cuba by Monday evening. As it re-emerges in the warmer waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the storm may reach major hurricane status with sustained winds of 111 mph (178 km/h) or higher.
The National Hurricane Center says in its latest update that the forecast “still shows Ian as a major hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico as it approaches the west coast of Florida.”
For the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, the Cayman Islands government has issued a hurricane watch. The Jamaican government has issued a tropical storm watch.
Tropical storm-force winds may affect southwest Florida on Tuesday, with a possible landfall on Wednesday. The exact time and location of the storm’s landfall in the US will depend on its final track, and could change in the coming days.
The National Hurricane Center said Friday afternoon there was still “increased track uncertainty” in the forecast after it entered the Gulf of Mexico, noting that weather patterns had shifted to the west in recent tracks. Recent forecasts suggest that much of Florida’s Gulf Coast may be at risk, including the eastern highlands.
As the forecast intensified, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday called for federal emergency aid to deal with the threat and also declared a state of emergency for 24 counties. According to the statewide emergency order, members of the Florida National Guard will be activated and waiting for orders.
“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to prepare,” DeSantis said in a news release. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to monitor the potential impacts of this storm.”
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It has been a slow to above average hurricane season. Only one storm has made landfall in a US territory, and no hurricanes have made landfall or threatened neighboring states.
Now, a week after the peak of hurricane season, the tropics appear to have reawakened, and forecasters worry that people have let their guard down.
“After a nice start, the Atlantic hurricane season has ramped up quickly,” tweeted Phil Klotzbach, a researcher at Colorado State University.
“People tend to let their guard down and think, yes, we’re out of the woods,” Maria Torres, a spokeswoman for the hurricane center, told CNN. “But the truth is, the season is still on. We’re still in September; we’ve still got October to go. Anything that comes up in the Atlantic or the Caribbean is something we have to watch very closely.”
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.
However, if you live in the Caribbean, Florida and other Gulf Coast states, keep an eye out for updated forecasts this weekend through early next week.