(CNN) — Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to rapidly intensify as it moves across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico before weakening as it reaches Florida this week, according to the latest update from the National Hurricane Center.
Ian, which developed in the central Caribbean Sea on Friday, will rapidly intensify on Sunday, increasing its wind speeds to 35 mph (56 km/h) over the next 24 hours to become a Category 3 hurricane on Monday. the night before reaching western Cuba, the hurricane center said. Forecasters predict the storm will reach its Category 4 peak over the eastern Gulf of Mexico in three days.
Ian is then expected to arrive in the United States, according to the National Weather Service in Miamibut there is uncertainty about its forecast track, with models showing a wide range of possible scenarios after Tuesday: Sunday morning the European model showed it will make landfall along the west-central coast of Florida on Wednesday morning night, while the US model showed it making landfall in western Florida on Friday morning.
The hurricane center forecast splits the difference, showing it will make landfall in Florida’s Big Bend on Thursday night as a weakening hurricane.
“Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, gale-force winds and heavy rain along Florida’s west coast by the middle of next week,” the hurricane center said.
Across the state, local officials are urging residents to be prepared for flash flooding and destructive winds.
“This is the calm before the storm,” Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann told CNN on Saturday. “We experience this kind of adrenaline rush before a storm and the road could change at any moment, but we want our citizens to be prepared.”
Ian is approximately 345 miles (555 km/h) south-southeast of Grand Cayman and moving west-northwest at 12 mph (19 km/h), according to the hurricane center’s update on Sunday morning. with maximum sustained winds reaching 50 mph (85 km/h).
A hurricane warning is in effect for Grand Cayman, and forecasters are growing confident that residents in western Cuba will face “life-threatening” storm surge and hurricane-force winds on Monday, the hurricane center said. Hurricane and tropical storm watches have been issued for parts of western Cuba.
Tropical storm conditions are possible throughout Cuba on Monday afternoon and hurricane conditions will likely continue Monday through Tuesday. Ian is forecast to bring 100 to 200mm of rain with isolated totals of up to 300mm possible in western Cuba. A storm surge of 9 to 14 feet (2 to 4 meters) is also forecast along the coast of western Cuba in areas of onshore winds Monday night through Tuesday.
As the storm approaches Florida, officials are distributing sandbags and asking Floridians to prepare their properties to reduce the risk of hurricane damage and stock up on supplies like radios, water, canned food and medicine. Residents should also pack important documents and know their evacuation routes.
On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expanded an emergency order to include every county in the state, saying conditions “are projected to constitute a major disaster.” US President Joe Biden declared an emergency for Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement response efforts.
Concerns about Ian’s arrival have also delayed the third Artemis I rocket launch attempt scheduled for Tuesday.
Prepare for flooding and high winds, authorities warn
Storm surge — when the force of a hurricane or storm pushes ocean water ashore — can be one of a hurricane’s greatest threats to life and property.
This is the main reason Miami-Dade County residents are being asked to evacuate ahead of a hurricane, according to county officials.
“We are outside the cone of uncertainty. We can’t relax,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told CNN on Saturday. “We know there’s always a chance it could change. The storm has continued to move west. This is the time everyone needs to make sure they have a plan.”
Levine Cava urged residents to make sure they have enough food and water and to check their storm surge planning zone.
“We’re very hopeful that even with a big rain event, we can handle it,” he said. “We are on standby. We have additional pumps and have worked with the South Florida Water Management District to lower the canal levels.”
Miami-Dade County is preparing its “extensive shelter system,” including for those fleeing the Florida Keys if evacuations are ordered there.
In Naples, Heitmann said he already sees lines at gas stations as residents prepare for the possible hurricane.
“They’re taking it seriously, and I encourage those who don’t take it seriously to always take a storm seriously, because you can never estimate which way it might turn. And we have to be prepared and if it doesn’t come straight into us, it could have strong winds,” Heitmann said.
In Sarasota, authorities are checking generators, planning with local police, trying to estimate how much flooding is possible and warning residents to be prepared, Mayor Erik Arroyo told CNN.
“Don’t underestimate the dangers that come with wind gusts, storm surge, flooding, especially since we’re a coastal city. So we are telling them to leave now, to be ready early,” Arroyo said.
CNN’s Derek Van Dam, Taylor Ward, Gregory Clary and Vanessa Price contributed to this report.