Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

More than 2,000 National Guard members began staging along Florida’s coast Sunday as a strengthening Tropical Storm Ian was forecast to become a large and powerful hurricane approaching the state.

Ian was in the Caribbean Sea on Sunday night, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, the National Hurricane Center said, but the storm was intensifying.

Forecasters expect Ian to become a hurricane Monday and reach major status — meaning a Category 3 storm or greater — on Tuesday, the weather agency said.

“Ian is going to be a large and powerful hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and spread its impacts over a large portion of the Florida peninsula,” Jamie Rhome, the acting director of the National Hurricane Center, said at a briefing Sunday.

The storm is expected to pass near or west of the Cayman Islands on Monday and then pass by or over western Cuba on Monday night and early Tuesday.

It was forecast to skirt western Florida on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all of Florida because of the threat, and the Florida National Guard activated 2,500 service members. The Guard began staging along the coast Sunday, the governor’s office said.

“Make preparations now,” DeSantis said Sunday. He said residents should anticipate power outages and fuel disruptions.

President Joe Biden on Saturday approved Florida’s emergency declaration, which allows for federal aid.

A tropical storm watch was issued Sunday for the lower Florida Keys, from Seven Mile Bridge south to Key West, the hurricane center said.

Hurricane warnings have also been issued for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de la Juventud, Pinar del Río and Artemisa.

Tropical storm warnings covered the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas, and Little Cayman and Cayman Brac were under a tropical storm watch.

Floridians were urged not to focus solely on the track of the center of the storm. The entire western coast of Florida is vulnerable to storm surge, said Rhome, of the National Hurricane Center.

“I’m telling you: It doesn’t take onshore or a direct hit from a hurricane to pile up the water,” he said.

Jamaica and the Cayman Islands were expected to get 3 to 6 inches of rain, with up to 8 inches in some areas, the hurricane center said. Western Cuba could get 6 to 10 inches, and up to 16 inches in some areas.

At 8 p.m. ET Sunday, the center of the storm was about 160 miles south of Grand Cayman, and it was moving northwest at 12 mph, the hurricane center said in an advisory.

The government of the Cayman Islands said tropical storm winds were estimated to reach Grand Cayman at 5 a.m. Monday (6 a.m. ET). Shelters have been opened, and residents were urged to be prepared.

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