Category 4 Hurricane Ian causes ‘catastrophic’ storm surge and flooding, changing course southeast of Flagler

Last update: 7:30 a.m.

Hurricane Ian early Wednesday morning was a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour as it neared landfall near Port Charlotte on Florida’s southwest coast. The storm is expected to continue inland as a hurricane for tens of miles before becoming a tropical storm as it moves through central Florida over the next 48 hours.

In the landing zone, the National Hurricane Center warns: “We are now forecasting a catastrophic storm surge of 12 to 16 feet.” and ‘damaging waves’ from Englewood to Bonita Beach, as well as ‘catastrophic wind damage’ beginning in the next few hours.

In another warning, “Heavy rain will spread across the Florida peninsula through Thursday and reach parts of the southeastern United States later this week and weekend. Widespread and life-threatening catastrophic flooding is expected in parts of central Florida, with extensive flooding in southern Florida, northern Florida, southeast Georgia and coastal South Carolina . Widespread and prolonged major and record river flooding expected in central Florida.

Courts, government offices, schools and many businesses are closed or closing today in Flagler and much of central Florida in anticipation of the impacts of Hurricane Ian. Flagler County Emergency Management is expected to issue evacuation orders for Flagler Beach and the rest of Barrier Island, as well as parts of the mainland east of I-95, such as low-lying areas along the along the Intracoastal later in the day. A special needs shelter opens at Rymfyre Elementary at 1 p.m. A shelter for the general population is set to open at Bunnell Elementary.

The storm’s current track, according to the National Hurricane Center, has shifted slightly east and south from its track on Tuesday. At this point, Flagler would be on the western side of the storm, as Ian is now expected to cross near Orlando to the Atlantic Ocean closer to Daytona Beach than Flagler Beach. The storm would reach Flagler County in the early hours of Friday.

As forecast models continue to diverge, forecasters predict severe local impacts. The storm inundated the Florida Keys before moving north. Rainfall amounts for the next few days are still expected to be between 10 and 15 inches at Flagler. The risk of tropical storm-force winds at Flagler remains in the 80-90% range. The storm surge along the st. Johns River is forecast at 3 to 5 feet, and up to 6 feet along the already battered and dune-eroded Flagler Bank, again putting the A1A state road at risk of damage.

Locally, a storm surge warning was in effect from the Flagler-Volusia County line to the St. Mary’s River and for the St. Johns River. This means that there is a danger of life-threatening flooding from rising waters moving inland from the coastline or from bodies of water such as the Intracoastal Waterway.

The surge coincides with large high tides, particularly around 11 a.m. Thursday and noon Friday. The National Hurricane Center has raised the likelihood of flash flooding for large swathes of central to southwest Florida, including all of Flagler County, to at least 70%. On Tuesday, local officials compared the upcoming flooding to that caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017, when it hit Flagler as a tropical storm and pushed the Intracoastal back on land. Some 400 homes were flooded and damaged.

The animated map below (click image for animation) shows the expected rainfall accumulation over the next three days:

Rainfall accumulation from Hurricane and Tropical Storm Ian over the next three days over the Florida Peninsula.  (Small tropical bites)
Rainfall accumulation from Hurricane and Tropical Storm Ian over the next three days over the Florida Peninsula. (Small tropical bites)

As of 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, Hurricane Ian was 75 miles southwest of Naples, with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, moving northeast at 10 miles per hour. Ian should slow down and make landfall today.

There is strong agreement between forecast models for the next 24 hours, but there is some divergence in the storm’s track as it approaches the east coast of Florida.

Hurricane Ian probability cone at 5 a.m. Wednesday.
Hurricane Ian probability cone at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

[This is a developing story. More soon.]