Updated Sep 28, 2022 - News

Tampa Bay braces for landfall as Hurricane Ian nears Category 5 strength

A man stands along Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard watching how the water has retreated.

A resident visits Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard on Wednesday morning to see how the water has retreated. Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

There's still some uncertainty, but the latest storm forecast is good news for the Tampa Bay area.

  • As the first heavy clouds of Hurricane Ian, now an "extremely dangerous" hurricane nearing Category 5 status, start racing across the Tampa Bay region this morning, the eye is churning toward a more southerly landfall, near Lee and Charlotte counties.

Why it matters: With Ian coming ashore to the south later today, the Tampa Bay area avoids the major storm surge that was forecast to flood thousands of homes and deluge the region.

  • While flooding depends on the timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, the National Hurricane Center's 11am forecast predicts a surge of 4 to 6 feet in Tampa Bay, from the Anclote River to Longboat Key β€” lower than yesterday's estimate of 5 to 10 feet.

Yes, but: Our neighbors to the south face a more intense storm, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. Damage will be catastrophic, per the National Hurricane Center.

Data: National Hurricane Center; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios
Data: National Hurricane Center; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

The latest: Ian's center is expected to move onshore this afternoon. More than 2 million people in Florida are under evacuation orders.

  • The approaching storm and a falling tide began emptying the shallows of the Hillsborough River, Old Hillsborough Bay and parts of Upper Tampa Bay Wednesday morning.
  • Along Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard, the water had retreated from the seawall about 50 feet in places, like it did when Hurricane Irma streaked east of the region in 2017.
  • The water will begin to return, but strong southerly winds could keep water offshore for longer.
  • Hundreds of people came out to Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard Wednesday morning to see how the water had retreated.
Some people walk out from Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard onto the Bay after the water retreated ahead of Hurricane Ian.
Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios
People walk out into the bay.
Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

What to expect: Strong sustained winds and heavy driving rain all day. Localized flooding.

  • We could get 12 to 18 inches of rain, per NHC.

Threat level: One of the biggest threats is surge flooding at the coast, which has prompted mandatory evacuations in some areas.

  • A storm surge warning was in effect for a heavily populated stretch of coastline that includes Tampa Bay, Fort Myers, Naples, Port Charlotte, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.
  • The surge between Chokoloskee and Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor, is predicted to be the highest, at 8 to 12 feet above normally dry ground.
  • A hurricane warning is in effect from Chokoloskee to the Anclote River, which includes Tampa Bay.

Keep reading

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include new forecasting and local response details.

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