Hurricane Ian is growing stronger: Could it become a Category 4 storm?
Hurricane Ian / NOAA

The National Hurricane Center reports that Ian is strengthening in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, raising concerns for residents that it could become a Category 4 storm, potentially overnight or early morning Wednesday.

Tuesday, Ian has been considered a Category 3 storm.

And with Ian headed toward south of Tampa Bay, in Sarasota County, officials are urging certain residents to evacuate and take their pets with them. In addition, county emergency management officials will be turning off water in some areas of the county, such as Siesta Key, and encouraging families to develop communication plans.

“I think if you go back 48 hours, and you look at where that track was going, even though we said, ‘don’t get wedded to where that eye is,’ they had the eye of the storm arriving some place’ in Northern Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “When we went to bed last night, the anticipation was landfall in the Tampa Bay area. And now models this morning… all have it coming into the Sarasota region.”

DeSantis held his second press conference Tuesday at the Sarasota County Emergency Operation Center to go over what he called the “final stages of preparations for what will be a really, really significant hurricane.”

He noted that the trajectory of the storm has changed drastically over the last few days due to the unpredictability of hurricanes such as Ian.

The storm is expected to linger over the initial landfall area, according to DeSantis.

“Another factor that they’re forecasting now is that, when it makes landfall, let’s say somewhere in Sarasota County, most of the forecasts have it slowing down to almost a crawl. And what that means is it’s going to dump an inordinate amount of rain,” DeSantis said. “So that could be Sarasota, it could be a little bit inland…there’s still time for it to wobble.”

He also urged Floridians to listen to local officials and heed evacuation orders, saying that evacuation orders have been issued “up and down the Gulf Coast of Florida, including here in Sarasota County.”

“The issue with this, if you’re in one of these low-lying areas, and you have the potential for 10, 15 feet of storm surge, that can absolutely be life threatening. Those orders, I think, are not taken lightly.”

He clarified that evacuating may not mean doing hours of travel up north.

“You don’t need to evacuate to another state. You don’t need to evacuate hundreds of miles away. The key is to get to high ground and be in a safe structure. I know here in Sarasota, they have shelters that are open that can do friends and family in the area,” DeSantis said.

“In Florida have structures that can deal with hurricanes, it’s hard to deal with 10 feet of water,” he added. “And that is really what is underlying these evacuation notices.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Division of Emergency Management, gave some advice to the residents of Sarasota and other impacted areas, such as ensuring that residents take their pets if they evacuate.

Ed McCrane with the Sarasota County Emergency Operations gave some specific advice for Sarasota residents:

“Utilities will be shut up will be shutting off water service to all residents and businesses located on Siesta Key after 5:00 o’clock this evening. The City of Sarasota maybe doing the same on Lido in that area, so keep that in mind. Solid waste collection services have been cancelled. The landfill is closed. We asked our community to continue to be smart, make their preparations now and follow evacuation notices when issued,” he said.

As for those seeking evacuation, he added:

“If you go into an evacuation center, eat before you go. Bring your emergency kit, including bedding and bring a flashlight, toiletries — you’re gonna get 20 square feet of space there…You can bring a pet. Every single evacuation center in Sarasota county is pet friendly.”

He also encouraged Floridians to keep their gas tank “half-full” to keep lines at the pump down.

“That shortens the amount of time at the lines at the gas stations…same thing goes to electrical cars, keep those batteries at 50 percent or more.”

Guthrie also urged people to have cash on hand in case ATMs lose power and electricity goes down.

Plants and yard furniture should be secured or brought inside, he noted.

According to a 2 p.m. public advisory update from the National Hurricane Center, “Ian is moving toward the north near 10 mph (17 km/h), and this motion is expected to continue today. A turn toward the north-northeast with a reduction in forward speed is forecast tonight and Wednesday,” the early afternoon advisory said.

“On the forecast track, the center of Ian is expected to move over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico today, pass west of the Florida Keys later tonight, and approach the west coast of Florida within the hurricane warning area on Wednesday and Wednesday night,” the advisory continued.

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