Florida’s Charlotte and Lee counties have been issued a rare extreme weather warning as Hurricane Ian remains on track to reach the state’s southwest coast. The warning from the National Weather Service was valid until 12:45 PM EDT today, but residents have nonetheless been advised to take precautions and remain indoors. As Ian nears Category 5 strength–which would see “catastrophic” winds of up to 200 mph–it is poised to inflict storm surges and flooding in the Florida peninsula.
“You need to get into the interior of your home and begin to brace for a period of sustained damaging, potentially devastating winds,” said National Hurricane Center Director Jamie Rhome. “Do not venture outside at all, do not try to evacuate at this point. You really have to get into the interior of your house and ride this part out.”
Millions of residents who heeded earlier evacuation orders are moving north on congested highways to escape the worst of Ian’s wrath. For those who didn’t leave in time, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday morning that it was no longer possible to “safely evacuate” from Collier County to Sarasota County, advising, “It’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm. This is a powerful storm that should be treated like you would treat a tornado approaching your home.”
The potential devastation facing Florida may echo the grim scene Ian left behind on Cuba Tuesday. The storm resulted in an island-wide blackout and at least two reported deaths. Now, the hurricane is projected to impact the entire Sunshine State and may reach Orlando as a Category 5 by tonight.
“Widespread, life-threatening, catastrophic flash, urban, and river flooding is expected” across central and southern Florida by this evening, the NHC predicted. They add that considerable flooding also is possible in southern Florida through Wednesday and in “northeast Florida, southeastern Georgia and coastal South Carolina through the weekend”.
To keep updated on Hurricane Ian and associated warnings and watches, visit the NHC’s interactive map of the storm here.