(NEXSTAR) – Cities in Florida are bracing for impact from a hurricane the likes of which their communities haven’t seen in 100 years.
Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall in west Florida Wednesday, with cities south of Tampa appearing to be in the direct line of fire. But the impacts of the Category 4 storm will be felt practically statewide, said Joel Cline, tropical program coordinator with the National Weather Service.
Cline explained there are three factors that make Ian so dangerous and life-threatening.
First off, there’s expected to be a dramatic rise in ocean levels. “The storm surge is going to be taller at the worst point than a one-story house, because a one-story house is about 10 feet and we’re looking at about 12 feet,” Cline said Tuesday.
By Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) had updated its forecast, calling for an even greater inundation: 12 to 16 feet along the state’s southwest coast. That big of a surge threatens to put coastal homes completely underwater.
The second big threat is the rain – not just on the coast, but statewide, Cline said. As the hurricane passes over Florida, it’s expected to dump “well over a foot of rain.”
“Washington, D.C. gets 48 inches of rain in a year. [To put it in perspective] we’re telling people that tomorrow you will get what Washington, D.C. gets in three months of rain,” Cline said.
The NHC is predicting “widespread, life-threatening, catastrophic flooding.”
In case the storm surge and rain weren’t dangerous enough, there’s the wind to contend with. On Wednesday morning, sustained winds were nearing 155 mph. Those aren’t just gusts – Cline pointed out – they’re relentless.
“That’s not something that lets up for the next eight hours. That’s pushing on buildings and shelters and everything like that,” he said.
As a result, Cline expected widespread power outages, some of which may last weeks.
Hurricane Ian is expected to hit Florida’s west coast Wednesday morning, move over the central part of the state Wednesday night into Thursday morning, and then move back over the Atlantic Ocean late Thursday.