Hurricane Ian grew into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm packing sustained winds of 155 mph early Wednesday, just hours before it was expected to make landfall on Florida’s southwest coast. About 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders as the hurricane started lashing the Florida peninsula with heavy rain and tropical-storm-force winds in the early hours.
Strengthening of the storm overnight was “really, really significant,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday morning. And emergency management directors in southwest Florida are now preparing for – and expecting – a Category 5 hurricane, said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“This is gonna be a nasty, nasty day – two days,” DeSantis said.
Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg were among the cities bracing for the worst of the storm, but the latest forecasts suggested Ian would make landfall slightly further south, with the Ft. Myers region at risk of a possible direct hit. Given the size and strength of the hurricane and the storm surge it’s expected to drive into coastal areas, officials were clear that much of Florida remained at risk.
Life-threatening impacts are expected and power outages will occur, according to officials.
Ian tore across western Cuba on Tuesday with sustained winds up to 125 mph. Damage from the storm knocked Cuba’s power grid offline, leaving the entire country in the dark Wednesday morning.