This article was written by Cristiana Mesquita and Curt Anderson, and was published in the Globe & Mail on September 28, 2022.
Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba as a major hurricane Tuesday and left one million people without electricity, then churned on a collision course with Florida over warm Gulf waters amid expectations it would strengthen into a catastrophic Category 4 storm.
Ian made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, and took steps to protect crops in the nation’s main tobacco-growing region. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 205 kilometres an hour.
Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, approaching the southwest coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.
Tropical storm-force winds were expected across the southern peninsula late Tuesday, reaching hurricane-force Wednesday – when the eye was predicted to make landfall. With tropical storm-force winds extending 225 kilometres from Ian’s centre, damage was expected across a wide area of Florida.
Its exact track could determine how severe the storm surge is for Tampa Bay, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. Landfall south of the bay could make the impact “much less bad,” Mr. McNoldy said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged people to prepare for extended power outages and to get out of the storm’s potential path.
“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in,” Mr. DeSantis told a news conference. “And you’re going to end up with really significant storm surge and you’re going to end up with really significant flood events. And this is the kind of storm surge that is life threatening.”
He said about 30,000 utility works have already been positioned around the state, but it might take days before they can safely reach some of the downed power lines. “This thing’s the real deal,” Mr. DeSantis said. “It is a major, major storm.”