is gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico, developing into a storm before it was expected to hit Florida’s west coast late Wednesday.
Tampa and St. Petersburg had appeared to be among the most likely targets for their first direct hit by a major hurricane in a century. But the latest path projection means Ian is now expected to hit further south along the coast.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders are in place in eight Florida counties: Charlotte, Hillsborough, Levy, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.
“It’s important to say that Tampa Bay region, you are not out of the woods yet. There is still going to be a storm surge event in the Tampa Bay region,” Guthrie said. “You need to continue to heed the warnings that are in place for Pinellas, Tampa, Manatee, Hillsborough. Do not return yet if you have evacuated.”
Forecasters said Ian was expected to move over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday before passing west of the Florida Keys Tuesday night. It will then approach Florida’s west coast as an “extremely dangerous” hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm on Tuesday battered Cuba with high winds and life-threatening storm surge, knocking out power to the island. It made landfall at 4:30 a.m. ET Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up 55 shelters and evacuated 50,000 people.
Contributing: The Associated Press