Florida awaited Thursday with anxiety the arrival in the day of the hurricane of category 4 Ian, which “intensifies quickly” and could cause “catastrophic” consequences according to the American weather services, after having devastated the west of Cuba.
Ian is expected to cause “catastrophic marine overwash, winds, and flooding on the Florida peninsula,” the National Hurricane Center (NHC) estimates in its latest bulletin.
Carrying sustained winds of up to 250 km/h and even “higher” gusts, Ian is heading for the west coast of Florida where it is expected to arrive in the early afternoon local time. The hurricane is then expected to “move inland” during the day, and “emerge over the western Atlantic by Thursday evening.”
Between 30 and 45 cm of precipitation is expected in central and northeast Florida, and up to 60 cm in some places, according to the NHC.
“This is a major storm,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Thursday morning at a news conference, warning that Ian could come ashore as a Category 5 hurricane, the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
“Clearly, this is a very powerful hurricane that will have far-reaching consequences,” he argued.
Evacuation orders were issued overnight for a dozen counties on the coast, and according to Ron DeSantis these were generally followed in these very sensitive areas, “but perhaps not by everyone”.
Warning that the day was going to be “very, very difficult”, the governor asked people not to go outside during the passage of the eye of the hurricane.
“There is actually a calm when the center of the hurricane is overhead. You may think the storm has passed? It hasn’t. It’s still very dangerous.”
On Tuesday, Joe Biden had also warned that Ian “could be a very violent hurricane, whose impact would be devastating and would put lives in danger”.
The U.S. President has already approved federal emergency assistance for 24 of Florida’s 67 counties.
“The closer it gets, the more anxiety obviously climbs with the unknown,” observed Chelsea Thompson, 30, who was helping her parents protect their home Tuesday in an evacuation zone southwest of Tampa.
Activity is halted in areas where the hurricane is expected. The Tampa airport, for example, suspended operations late Tuesday afternoon. According to the Pentagon, 3,000 National Guard troops are mobilized in Florida, with another 1,800 on the way.
The Nasa had given up the takeoff planned Tuesday of its new mega rocket for the Moon, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Hurricane Ian, then in category 3, had previously hit Cuba on Tuesday, devastating the west of the country for five hours before heading towards the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Cuban meteorological institute Insmet.
Two people were killed in the western province of Pinar del Rio, according to Cuban state media, and the island was plunged entirely into darkness.
The country of 11.2 million people is “without electrical service,” tweeted state-owned power company Union Eléctrica.
As the ocean surface warms, the frequency of the most intense hurricanes, with stronger winds and more precipitation, increases, but not the total number of hurricanes. Hurricanes are also spreading to areas that were previously spared.
According to the IPCC (August 2021 report), the proportion of particularly intense hurricanes (category 4 and 5) should increase by 10% compared to the pre-industrial era with a warming of +1.5°C, by 13% at +2°C and by 30% at +4°C.
In particular, they pose an increasing risk to coastal communities from wave overwash (also known as marine submersion), amplified by rising sea levels, causing flooding and salt contamination of land and freshwater.
Due to rising sea levels and marine submersion events, more than one billion people will live in coastal cities at risk by 2050, according to the IPCC.