Hurricane Ian Nears Category 5 Strength in Push to Florida




  • In Business
  • 2022-09-28 11:32:19Z
  • By Bloomberg
 

(Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Ian rapidly gained strength -- with winds reaching 155 miles an hour -- as it barreled toward the coast of Florida, threatening to rip roofs off of homes, wreck agricultural crops and cripple infrastructure as one of the costliest storms to ever hit the US.

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Ian's winds are now just 2 mph away from reaching Category 5 strength, the most powerful rating for a storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the US National Hurricane Center. Only four Category 5 hurricanes have hit mainland US in records going back to 1851. The storm is on track to make landfall along the west coast of Florida later Wednesday. Yesterday, Tampa was facing a direct hit. Now forecasters expect it to come ashore near Fort Myers, a two-hour drive south.

"Catastrophic wind damage is likely where the core of Ian moves on shore," Eric Blake, a senior hurricane specialist, said in a statement. "Widespread, life-threatening, catastrophic flash, urban, and river flooding is expected across central Florida."

The storm is bearing down on Florida as climate change fuels extreme weather around the globe. The year has already brought deadly flooding in Kentucky, a European heat wave that killed more than 2,000 people in Portugal and Spain, and a major hurricane that left catastrophic damage from Puerto Rico to Atlantic Canada -- each disaster exacting its own human and financial toll. And a relentless drought continues to grip the Western US.

How Climate, 'Rapid Intensification' Revved Up Ian: QuickTake

Ian was forecast to inflict more than $45 billion in damage, which would rank it among the top 10 most expensive storms in US history. By late Tuesday, more than 2,000 flights to and from Florida were canceled, and more than 2 million people had been urged to evacuate.

Across the US, 3,465 flights have been canceled for Wednesday and Thursday, with most of those to or from Orlando, Tampa, and Miami, according to FlightAware, an airline tracking service.

Ian will rip right through Florida's citrus groves, potentially knocking ripe fruit off trees and ruining the crop, Maxar Technologies Inc. meteorologist Donald Keeney said. Ian's path will likely take it back into the Atlantic on the eastern side of Florida before it makes a second landfall as a much weaker storm on the coast of Georgia or South Carolina, which will damage cotton quality there.

Massive flooding will occur across Florida that could even surpass damages from wind and storm surge.

If Ian maintains its strength as it comes ashore, it will be the first Category 4 storm to hit the US since Hurricane Ida last year. Ida, however, hit a sparsely populated area of Louisiana, while Ian is taking aim at a denser part of the nation. Like Ida, Ian's true danger may lie in heavy rain, which may exceed two feet across Florida and the US Southeast.

Three of the four Category 5 storms that have hit the mainland US came ashore in Florida. Hurricane Michael was the last Category 5 storm to hit the mainland, striking the Florida Panhandle in 2018.

(Adds meteorologist comment and map)

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