‘Major uncertainty’ at Florida track

Tropical Storm Ian is expected to become a hurricane when it begins to “significantly strengthen” later today, but the National Hurricane Center lacks confidence in where the storm could make landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast, saying there is “significant uncertainty about its further reach” “forecast.

Tropical Storm Ian still had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. update on Sunday. The storm was located about 300 miles south-southeast of Grand Cayman and 570 miles southeast of the western top of Cuba, and was moving west-northwest at 14 mph. Tropical storm strong winds stretched 60 miles from Ian’s center.

A hurricane warning is in effect for parts of Grand Cayman and Cuba.

The Hurricane Center said it has “relatively high confidence” in its short-term forecast, which calls for Ian to gradually turn northwest as it passes southwest Jamaica later on Sunday, before moving west of the Cayman Islands on Monday and approaching or approx. 2 earlier over western Cuba.

“Ian is expected to become a hurricane tonight or early Tuesday, with major hurricane strength expected before reaching western Cuba,” NHC.

The storm is expected to reach winds of 120 mph in 36 hours and 130 mph in 60 hours.

The forecast track for Tropical Storm Ian was updated by the National Hurricane Center at 11 a.m. Sunday.

This is a prediction for Ian that is questionable three to five days from now. Computer prediction models agree that Ian will hit Florida, but not where. “There are still significant differences regarding the exact track of the storm, especially after 72 hours,” the NHC warned.

Two models, UKMET and ECMWF, show the storm moving eastward and making landfall in west-central Florida. Two other models, GFS and HWRF, show the storm moving further west and bringing Ian into the central or western Florida panhandle. Earlier Sunday, the NHC said there was a 220-250-mile difference between Ian’s predicted model trajectory for Day 4 and Day 5.

This Sunday morning satellite image shows Tropical Storm Ian spinning south of Cuba.

The Hurricane Center’s current forecast trajectory for the storm essentially separates the differences between the different model sets from the NHC’s best guess.

“However, significant uncertainty remains in Ian’s long-term orbital forecasts and future adjustments to these forecasts may be required,” the NHC said.

Regardless of Ian’s exact path and intensity, the Hurricane Center noted the risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane winds and heavy rainfall on Florida’s west coast and the Florida Panhandle by mid-week.

“Floridians should ensure that they have a hurricane plan, follow any advice from local officials, and pay close attention to forecast updates,” the Hurricane Center said.

It’s unclear where Ian was hit the hardest, said John Canjalosi, a senior hurricane expert at the Miami-based Hurricane Center. He said Floridians should start preparing, including gathering supplies for a possible power outage.

“At this point, the really correct message for people living in Florida is that you have to pay attention to forecasts, be prepared, be prepared for the potential impact of this tropical system,” he said.

In central Florida, residents spent part of the weekend preparing for Ian’s arrival.

A Target store near Millenia had few gallons of bottled water left on Saturday, as signs on the shelves limit purchases to four cases or bottles per customer.

“This is the third store I’ve visited today,” said Maritza Osorio, who left Target for the fourth. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

At the Home Depot store in the same plaza, there was a lot of foot traffic, with many people filling their carts with water, while others were buying plywood for shutters, among other items.

While it’s unclear if or how hard Ian will be hit when he hits Central Florida, the likes of Gary Wilson aren’t taking any chances. Just in case, he’s got his Hurricanes gear ready a few weeks before the season and is at Home Depot for the final touches.

Key information from Tropical Storm Ian in Sunday's 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

“If something happens, I’m ready,” Wilson said.

Florida Governor on Saturday. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for the entire Sunshine State — expanding on an order he issued Friday declaring a state of emergency in two dozen counties. DeSantis also mobilized the National Guard to assist with storm preparation and recovery.

“This storm has the potential to intensify into a major hurricane, and we encourage all Floridians to prepare,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track this potential impact of a storm.”

President Joe Biden also declared a state of emergency in the state, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance to protect life and property.

The president postponed the original September. 27 Headed to Orlando due to a storm.

Sentinel employees and Associated Press’ Cristóbal Reyes contributed to this report

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