Sep 26, 2022 - News

Tampa Bay schools are closing as Hurricane Ian tracks toward Florida

Illustration of a road sign with a hurricane icon on it in a storm

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ian is approaching. And while it's still uncertain if Tampa Bay is in the storm's direct path, residents are urged to prepare for a hurricane.

The latest: Ian strengthened into a hurricane early this morning and is forecast to quickly intensify as it churns north toward western Cuba at 14mph, with maximum sustained winds of 75mph.

  • The National Weather Service this morning issued a hurricane watch for the west coast of Florida, from north of Englewood to the Anclote River, near Tarpon Springs.

What it means: Hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. A watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous.

  • The hurricane watch includes Tampa Bay.

And a storm surge watch has been extended northward along the west coast of Florida to the Anclote River.

No evacuations have been ordered in Tampa Bay as of Monday morning.

What we’re watching: Ian is expected to turn north-northwest today, then move northward on Tuesday, slightly slower. Tuesday night or early Wednesday, it’s expected to turn north-northeast.

State of play: President Biden declared a federal state of emergency for multiple Florida counties on Saturday and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued one for the entire state.

  • Tampa and St. Petersburg along with Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties are all under local states of emergency. No evacuations have been ordered in Tampa Bay, as of Monday morning.

School's out: University of Tampa and University of South Florida stopped classes today for the next week in anticipation of a campus evacuation. Eckerd College also canceled classes and told students who live on campus to leave by 3pm today.

  • Hillsborough County public schools are closed through Thursday, as buildings will be used as storm shelters for people who need to evacuate. All after-school programs and extra-curricular activities are also suspended.
  • Starting Tuesday, all Pinellas County schools and offices will be closed and are tentatively scheduled to reopen Thursday. All sports and extracurricular activities will also be canceled during that time.
  • Pinellas County students at Palm Harbor University High School, Dunedin Highland Middle School and John Hopkins Middle School will get out at 12:30pm today so the schools can be used as shelters. After-school activities are canceled today.
  • In Pasco County, schools and offices will be open today, but closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Saint Leo University will hold classes online from today to Friday.
  • Sarasota County schools are open, but officials posted that they may close Tuesday to shelter evacuees.
  • Manatee and Hernando schools did not mention closures.

Meanwhile: Roughly 2,500 Florida National Guard members have been activated to help with the response to Ian, DeSantis said Sunday. More could be called in if necessary, he added.

  • Polk County closed all its environmental lands sites and natural resources stormwater treatment wetlands today until further notice.

Threat level: A direct strike on Tampa Bay from a Category 3 hurricane would push a wall of water into the area and cause as much as $30 billion in losses and damage, a disaster modeler with Enki Research told Fortune.

What they're saying: Even if the west coast of Florida doesn't sustain a direct hit from Ian, "I'm telling you, it doesn't take an onshore or direct hit from a hurricane to pile up the water," acting NHC director Jamie Rhome said in a Sunday briefing.

  • St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said on CNN yesterday that he's encouraging residents to prepare emergency provisions for at least a week.

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