Storm Tropical Ian gains strength in the Caribbean and heads for Florida.

The ninth designated tropical storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has developed in the central Caribbean Sea, and estimates indicate that Florida will be hit by its first significant hurricane since 2018.

Storm Tropical Ian gains strength in the Caribbean and heads for Florida.
Friday morning, the system was positioned over the central Caribbean Sea. (Image Credit : CNN WEATHER)

As of 5 a.m. Saturday, Tropical Storm Ian was positioned approximately 315 miles (510 km) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and was heading west-northwest at 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

After increasing overnight, the storm has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 km/h) and is expected to reach hurricane intensity during the next two days when it hits the Cayman Islands by early Monday. More fortification is expected when the system approaches and passes western Cuba by Monday evening.

As it reemerges into the warm seas of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the storm may become a major hurricane with speeds of 111 mph (178 km/h).

"When it hits western Cuba, Ian is projected to be approaching major hurricane strength," the hurricane center warned. "Because Ian is not projected to linger over Cuba for long, no weakening due to land interaction is envisaged, and the prediction depicts Ian as a strong hurricane across the eastern Gulf when it approaches the west coast of Florida."

If it grows to a Category 3 or higher before making landfall in Florida, it will be the first significant hurricane to hit the state since Hurricane Michael in 2018, It was a Category 5 hurricane when it reached the Florida panhandle. Michael also intensified rapidly before making landfall, a condition that has becoming increasingly probable as ocean temperatures rise owing to the climate crisis.

The Cayman Islands government has issued a hurricane warning for the Cayman Islands, including Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. A tropical storm warning has been issued by the Jamaican government.

Early Tuesday, tropical storm-force winds may begin to hit southwest Florida, with landfall possible on Wednesday. The exact date and location of the storm's landfall in the United States will be heavily dependent on its ultimate route, which might change in the coming days.

The National Hurricane Center stated Friday evening that there was still "enhanced track uncertainty" in the prediction when it entered the Gulf of Mexico, adding that previous weather models had drifted west. According to the most recent track projection, much of Florida's Gulf Coast, including the eastern panhandle, could be in danger.

According to the center, a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft is expected to explore Ian and give further data later Saturday.

As the forecast intensifies, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis requested federal disaster aid on Friday and issued a state of emergency for 24 counties. Members of the Florida National Guard will be activated and on standby awaiting orders under the state-level emergency order.

The governor warned everyone in the storm's path to be prepared.

"This storm has the potential to strengthen into a catastrophic hurricane, and we urge all Floridians to prepare," DeSantis said in a statement. "We are cooperating with all state and local government partners to monitor potential storm impacts."

Forecasters warn folks to be prepared.

The start to what was expected to be an above-average hurricane season has been delayed. There has only been one storm that has made landfall in a US territory, and no hurricanes have made landfall or endangered the contiguous states.

The tropics appear to have awoken a week after the peak of hurricane season, and forecasters are afraid that people have relaxed their guard.

"After a sluggish start, the Atlantic hurricane season has ratcheted up fast," Colorado State University research scientist Phil Klotzbach tweeted.

"People tend to drop their guard and believe, well, OK, we're out of the woods," hurricane center spokesperson Maria Torres told CNN. "However, the season continues. We're still in September, and October is still ahead of us. Anything that forms over the Atlantic or the Caribbean has to be constantly monitored."

The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.

Whatever happens, whether you reside in the Caribbean, Florida, or other Gulf Coast states, keep an eye on the revised forecasts this weekend and into early next week.

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