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A potent tropical system is barreling into the Caribbean on Friday, poised to strengthen significantly as it tracks north towards the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasts show the system intensifying to a Category 3 as it approaches Florida next week, where it could become the state’s first major hurricane since 2018.
The system, Tropical Depression Nine, formed early Friday morning over the central Caribbean Sea and is likely to become seasonal next named storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. It would be named Ian when it strengthens to tropical storm status, which it could do as early as Friday evening.
Ni had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph and was about 400 miles southeast of Jamaica Friday afternoon as it tracked west-northwest at 15 mph.
While the system is expected to undergo slow strengthening over the next few days, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center warned rapid intensification is possible – if not likely – as it passes over the very warm waters of the Caribbean and southeastern Gulf of Mexico.
If it strengthens to a Category 3 or higher before reaching Florida, it will be the first major hurricane to make landfall there since Hurricane Michael in 2018, which was a monster Category 5 storm when it collided with the Florida panhandle. Michael also underwent a rapid intensification before it went ashore, a phenomenon that has been made more likely as sea temperatures warm due to the climate crisis.
Tropical storm-force winds may begin affecting southwest Florida early Tuesday, with the possibility of landfall Wednesday. The exact timing and location of the storm’s US landfall will largely depend on its final path, which could change in the coming days.
The National Hurricane Center said Friday evening that there was still “increased track uncertainty” in the forecast after it enters the Gulf of Mexico, noting that weather models had shifted westward in recent runs. The latest track forecast suggests that much of Florida’s Gulf Coast — including the eastern panhandle — may be at risk.
As forecasts intensify, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday requested federal emergency aid in anticipation of the threat and also declared a state of emergency for 24 counties. Under the statewide emergency order, members of the Florida National Guard will be activated and on standby pending orders.
The governor urged them in the storm’s potential path to prepare.
“This storm has the potential to strengthen into a major hurricane, and we urge all Floridians to make their preparations,” DeSantis said in a news release. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to track potential impacts of this storm.”
In the short term, Ni is expected to bring heavy rains to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, northern Venezuela and northern Colombia, which could lead to flooding and mudslides across the islands. The system is then expected to gain strength and intensify into a tropical storm as it tracks toward Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
A hurricane watch has been issued for the Cayman Islands, including Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. A tropical cyclone has been issued for Jamaica.
Total expected rainfall:
- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao: Another 1 to 2 inches
- Northern Venezuela: 2 to 5 inches
- Northern Colombia: 3 to 6 inches
- Jamaica: 4 to 8 inches with local maximums up to 12 inches
- Cayman Islands: 4 to 8 inches, with local maximums up to 12 inches
- Southern Haiti and southern Dominican Republic: 2 to 4 inches with local maximums up to 6 inches
- West, central Cuba: 6 to 10 inches with local maximums up to 14 inches
It has been a slow start to what was predicted to be an above-average hurricane season. Only one storm has made landfall on a US territory, and no hurricane has made landfall or threatened the contiguous United States.
Now, a week after the peak of hurricane season, the tropics appear to have woken up, and forecasters are concerned that people have let their guard down.
“After a slow start, the Atlantic hurricane season has ramped up,” tweeted Phil Klotzbach, a researcher at Colorado State University.
“People tend to let their guard down and think, oh, yeah, we’re out of the woods,” Torres said. “But in reality the season continues. We are still in September; we still have October left. Anything that forms over either the Atlantic or the Caribbean is something we have to continue to monitor very closely.”
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.
No matter what, if you live in the Caribbean, Florida and other states along the Gulf Coast, be aware of the updated forecasts this weekend into early next week.