As Florida prepares for its first major storm of this year’s hurricane season, Gainesville officials urge residents to prepare for heavy rainfall and potential flooding.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said the storm maintains maximum sustained wind speeds of 60 mph and is expected to reach major hurricane strengths Monday night. AccuWeather said the storm could reach Category 4 wind speeds between 130 and 156 mph.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in all 67 Florida counties ahead of Tropical Storm Ian’s potential landfall in Florida later this week. The announcement was made mere days after Hurricane Fiona caused the entire island of Puerto Rico to lose power.
The tropical storm is expected to produce 2 to 4 inches of rain between the Keys and into Central Florida, which may lead to urban and flash flooding through the midweek, according to the NHC.
The storm’s exact path is yet to be determined but the latest models by NHC predict the eye will land somewhere above Lake Okeechobee, as of Sunday.
Even if the storm doesn’t make landfall, the effects of it may still be felt up to 150 miles away from the eye, said Jeff George, UF chief meteorologist and director of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
In the scenario the storm stays offshore, George said residents should still expect dangerous life-threatening storm surge, high rip currents and high surf all along the Gulf Coast.
Fort Myers and Tampa should have their preparations ready by Tuesday afternoon, and those in the Florida Panhandle no later than Wednesday afternoon, George said.
Staying up to date with the latest forecast and reaching out to friends and family is essential, George said.
Alachua County has no plans to close schools, Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson said. That could change depending on what the storm does and whether schools are called into service as shelters.
UF also isn’t planning on canceling classes either as of Sunday, spokesperson Cynthia Roldan said.
The university posted Sunday urging members of the community to prepare by building an emergency kit, downloading the GatorSafe app and checking UF emergency weather updates for the latest developments on the storm.
If shelters are required, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said the Senior Center will be available for people with special needs. The location of other shelters will be announced this week.
“I think our folks here in Gainesville are accustomed to this and we have been through this,” Poe said. “It's really about just making sure you're prepared before.”
Alachua County also sent out a press release telling residents how to prepare for the storm including removing obstructions around windows, trimming branches, securing lawn furniture and storing grills.
The release shared a three-minute video explaining how to properly interpret the “Cone of Uncertainty.” The video explains the center of the storm will stay inside of the cone in two out of three weather forecasts. It also recommends using the cone to see where the center may go, how big the storm is at that moment and where coastal wind watches and warnings are in effect.
"As a community, we are stronger than the individual," Alachua County Emergency Manager Jen Grice said in the press release. "We encourage all of our residents to reach out to their friends, families, and neighbors to provide help and encouragement to those that may have a more difficult time getting prepared.”
Contact Fernando at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.
Fern is a junior journalism and sustainability studies major. He previously reported for the University and Metro desks. Now, he covers the environmental beat on the Enterprise desk. When he's not reporting, you can find him dancing to house music at Barcade or taking photos on his Olympus.