TAMPA, Fla. (NBC) – Hurricane Ian is growing in intensity Tuesday morning and it could be a monster Category 4 storm when it makes landfall in Florida later this week.
Forecasters are predicting historic rain, catastrophic winds, and life-threatening storm surge with evacuations already underway.
Reality is starting to set in for the Tampa Bay area, as it is now under a hurricane warning, the first time it’s happened for this region since 2017 and Irma, but that one veered at the last second.
Businesses are trying to be prepared by putting plywood up on windows. An ice cream shop tried to inject some levity to the situation with a “No ice cream for Ian” sign.
Of course, there could be very serious and potentially dire circumstances.
Sandbags are on the ground to prevent flooding.
That’s small potatoes compared to what’s really going on Tuesday in terms of mandatory evacuations. When you look at Pinellas County and Hillsborough County, these are population growth areas that now have about 2.5 million people, collectively.
The whole Tampa Bay area’s population is 3.2 million, so 75% to 80% of the people are in these two counties that both have mandatory evacuations. Collectively, they’re looking to move a million-plus people.
A couple of points on that: the topography. If you just look at this area, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and Gulfport, there are bays and inlets everywhere, barrier reefs, and pieces of land jutting out into the water. You have the bay on one side, and the gulf on the other. The water has nowhere to go and storm surge right now is certainly the biggest concern as the projections are between five and 10 feet.
Just for historical context, the last time a major hurricane struck Tampa directly was in 1921, a century ago. It was about 11 feet of storm surge.
The speed at which this storm is traveling is perhaps the biggest problem right now. It is projected to go three to four miles an hour, which is about the pace that you and I would walk at, which is to say the same storm would be sitting there on the water and, ultimately on land, just dumping rain for hours.
Officials are on red alert. In addition to the evacuations, Governor Ron DeSantis has mobilized some 5,000 national guardsmen. That has doubled in the last couple of days. 2,000 more are on standby right now. Meals and water are ready to be distributed.
The entire Pinellas County area is on edge, waiting to see what happens in the next several days.