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Tropical Storm Ian could hit Florida as a major hurricane

An undated photo provided by CIRA/NOAA shows a satellite image of Tropical Depression Nine, which became Tropical Storm Ian late Friday, Sept. 23. Tropical Storm Ian could threaten Florida as a major hurricane early next week after cutting across western Cuba, forecasters said.CIRA/NOAA/NYT

Tropical Storm Ian, which formed late Friday over the central Caribbean Sea, could threaten Florida as a major hurricane early next week after moving over or near western Cuba, forecasters said.

Forecasters said Ian was expected to become a hurricane by late Sunday and a major hurricane by late Monday or early Tuesday. Forecasters said the Florida Keys could get 2 to 4 inches of rain, with some areas getting up to 6 inches through Tuesday evening.

On Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida declared a state of emergency for all of Florida’s 67 counties before the storm. Under the order, money would be freed up for protective measures and the National Guard would be activated, DeSantis said.

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He said late Saturday that Ian was expected to approach the Florida Gulf Coast by midweek.

The National Hurricane Center said residents should prepare hurricane supplies by sunset Monday. The storm could strike as a Category 3 hurricane or higher, it said.

The storm was about 230 miles south of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, at 8 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. It was headed west at 14 mph and had maximum winds of 45 mph, the hurricane center said.

Ian was expected to pass southwest of Jamaica on Sunday and near or west of the Cayman Islands on Sunday night and early Monday before moving near or over western Cuba late Monday, forecasters said.

Monroe County Emergency Management, which oversees Key West, said it would not be making any evacuation decisions as of Saturday morning, according to Kristen Livengood, a spokesperson. County government offices were set to be open Monday.

“Review your tropical cyclone preparedness plans now and ensure your emergency supply kit is well-stocked,” a post said. “If your plans include several days’ worth of preparedness actions, be sure to begin your actions as soon as possible.”

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Crews in Tampa, on Florida’s west coast, began to remove debris and clear drains before the potential storm, to prevent drainage issues and chances of flooding.

Ian is expected to generate 2 to 4 inches of rain in parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, 3 to 6 inches in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, and 4 to 8 inches in western and central Cuba, the center said.

This rainfall could lead to flash flooding and mudslides in higher-terrain areas, particularly in Jamaica and Cuba, forecasters said. Swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

The government of the Cayman Islands upgraded its hurricane watch to a hurricane warning for Grand Cayman. A warning is usually issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds.

Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are now under a tropical storm watch, meaning activity was expected within 48 hours. Grand Cayman was under a hurricane warning.

This hurricane season is Nicole Sigismondi’s first time preparing for it alone with her two children, ages 7 and 15. Her fiancee died almost a year ago. When she went to buy water Friday night, it was sold out.

“There was nothing left at Walmart,” she said. “That was a little unsettling.”

During Hurricane Irma in 2017, parts of her house flooded and she was without power for three weeks, she said. She and her family had to walk about a mile through water before someone could pick them up in a car — which a tree then fell on.

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Hurricane paths can often change suddenly, which was the case five years ago when Irma moved toward her area in Pasco County, Florida, north of Tampa.

“The hope is that you get lucky, but you hope it doesn’t hit anybody else,” Sigismondi said. “You don’t wish bad on them.”

In the Tampa area, Cassandra Sumwun, 49, spent her Saturday clearing the floor of her garage to prepare for flooding and picking up yard debris in case of strong winds at her 5-acre home in the woods, with the help of her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

Sumwun has lived in Florida her whole life and has so far avoided being in harm’s way during hurricanes, she said, but she always prepares for them. She has filled tanks with water but still has to board up her sliding glass doors and fill gas cans for a generator.

“I think far too many people take these storms lightly,” she said.

Ian is the ninth named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season. A storm is given a name after it reaches wind speeds of at least 39 mph.

Forecasters had tracked other storms as well, including Fiona, which formed Sept. 15, and strengthened into a major hurricane before being downgraded late Friday to a post-tropical cyclone. It made landfall in eastern Canada early Saturday, after days of lashing Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, had a relatively quiet start, with only three named storms before Sept. 1 and none during August, the first time that had happened since 1997. Storm activity picked up in early September with Danielle and Earl, which formed within a day of each other.

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In early August, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an updated forecast for the rest of the season, which still called for an above-normal level of activity. In it, they predicted that the season — which runs through Nov. 30 — could see 14 to 20 named storms, with six to 10 turning into hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 74 mph.

Three to five of those could strengthen into what NOAA calls major hurricanes — Category 3 or stronger — with winds of at least 111 mph.

Last year, there were 21 named storms, after a record-breaking 30 in 2020. For the past two years, meteorologists have exhausted the list of names used to identify storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, an occurrence that has happened only one other time, in 2005.

The links between hurricanes and climate change have become clearer with each passing year. Data shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms, although the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

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Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of increased water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested that storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.