Hurricane Ian continues to intensify off the coast of Florida as the state’s coastal communities brace for storm surges and high winds as it approaches landfall.

Ian was upgraded to a Category 3 storm Tuesday morning after hitting maximum sustained winds of up to 120 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an update. The hurricane is expected to continue to gain strength before reaching Florida’s west coast perhaps Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, shutting down beaches as residents move to higher ground, as Governor Ron DeSantis issued a emergency order for the state.

Rhome said in the update that Ian continued to strengthen as he moved off the west coast of Cuba and headed north toward Florida. Areas from the Anclote River to Englewood, including Tampa, now have hurricane warnings. Other nearby areas south of Anclote, such as Tampa and Flamingo, are also under warning for storm surges, caused when water is forced inland by the force of the storm. In Tampa, surges could reach 10 feet, he said.

Palm trees sheer in Nagua, Dominican Republic on September 19, 2022, during Hurricane Fiona. Hurricane Ian is now hitting the Gulf of Mexico through Cuba and is expected to make landfall near Tampa, Florida.
Photo by ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

“This warning also triggers your cell phone to ring, so you may have received two alerts,” Rhome said. “It’s to denote the hurricane warning and the storm surge warning. That’s why we’re trying to get the message out about the storm surge. A significant event in ‘Storm surge is entirely possible for parts of the west coast of Florida.’

The National Hurricane Center said Monday that Ian’s center is about 250 km southeast of Cuba’s west coast, and is expected to become a major hurricane late tonight or early Tuesday. Ian is expected to approach Florida’s west coast on Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the center.

AccuWeather predicts Ian will gain intensity and by mid-week will upgrade to a Category 4 hurricane, which can cause catastrophic damage after reaching wind speeds of 156 mph.

Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, has already issued a mandatory evacuation order for parts of the city along the coast.

Jane Castor, Mayor of Tampa Told AccuWeather that the evacuation order was issued on Monday and that residents of other parts of the city may also be ordered to leave. She also said the city was handing out sandbags to residents and emptying stormwater basins, while reaching out to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities housing vulnerable residents.

Castor added that Mother Nature is always in the “winning column”.

“And we don’t want to play with that,” she said.

Meanwhile, here are live cameras showing how Florida communities are responding.

Fort Myers Beach

Key West

Clearwater Beach

Tampa

St. George’s Island