DAYTONA BEACH — As Hurricane Ian made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday afternoon near Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the effects of the massive hurricane started to hit Volusia and Flagler counties in the form of heavy rain and tropical storm-force winds.
Hurricane Ian made landfall near Sanibel Island and Cayo Costa on the southwest coast at 3:05 p.m. on Wednesday as a high-end Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph. It is expected to move north-northeastward across the state through the day on Thursday,
Moving at 9 mph at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the storm is forecast to slow as it crosses the state and moves out into the Atlantic Ocean in southern Volusia County on Thursday afternoon.
As the storm moved inland, maximum sustained winds decreased to near 140 mph with higher gusts, according to the Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. update. Throughout the afternoon, heavy rains and winds descended on Volusia and Flagler counties.
“In terms of timing, things will definitely start to deteriorate after 2 p.m. today (Wednesday) and continue to deteriorate overnight into Thursday,” said Brendan Schaper, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne. “The area will see the onset of tropical storm force winds and some higher gusts will begin for inland and coastal Volusia and Flagler by late afternoon and evening.”
Tropical storm force winds are clocked at 39-73 mph. Coastal Volusia County could experience gusts up to 90 mph, according to the NWS.
Hurricane Ian's track may head directly over Volusia County into Atlantic
Although Ian’s path could wobble as it crosses the state, current forecasts from the National Hurricane Center show the center of the slow-moving storm crossing Volusia County after 2 p.m. Thursday and emerging into the Atlantic Ocean near Port Orange between Daytona Beach and Brevard County.
On Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from Sebastian Inlet on Florida's east coast northward to the Flagler/Volusia county line until further notice.
Although the Hurricane Center predicts that the storm will weaken after landfall, it also advises that Ian could be near hurricane strength when it moves over the east coast of Florida on Thursday and approaches the northeastern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Friday.
By the time Ian passes over Volusia and Flagler counties, "it’s predicted right now to be a strong tropical storm at that point, but it will be capable of producing frequent hurricane gusts,” Schaper said.
The updated forecast for coastal Volusia calls for sustained winds of 50-65 mph with gusts to 90 mph, which would be hurricane force.
“The likelihood for hurricane force winds is greater the closer to the center,” Schaper said.
The National Hurricane Center said winds near the center of Ian could still be near hurricane strength when it arrives on the east coast.
The most significant winds in the local region should begin after daybreak Thursday, but tropical storm force winds, squalls and tornadoes are possible Wednesday night and throughout Thursday, the weather service said.
Seas offshore on Thursday are forecast at 7-13 feet.
Flooding will be a major threat
In addition to high winds, the potential for flooding from the heavy rains also will be a major threat.
Rain will fall across the region, with the heaviest amounts north of I-4 and flooding is likely in low-lying areas.
In updated forecasts, the National Weather Service warned rainfall amounts will range from 12 to 20 inches, with locally higher amounts up to 30 inches of rain near the center as Ian tracks across northeast and central Florida.
A look at flood-prone areas: Hurricane Ian expected to deluge low-lying areas of Volusia and Flagler counties
Even though Volusia and Flagler counties are on the opposite side of the state from Ian's initial landfall, storm surge is forecast from Brevard county northward. A surge of 1 to 3 feet is expected to the Volusia-Flagler County line, and a surge of 3-5 feet is forecast from that point north.
The rain could cause major flooding, especially in low-lying areas and areas that have already received heavy rainfall over the last week. The St. Johns River is forecast to reach at least moderate flooding in several locations. At Astor, the river is forecast to reach 3.8 feet on Friday morning, just inches below the major flooding level and less than a foot from its record height.
At Lake Harney in southern Volusia County, the river is forecast to reach major flooding of 10.4 feet by Sunday. Its record height is 11.1 feet, set in 2008.
“The flooding rain threat is significant especially for the northern portions of East Central Florida, which includes Volusia and Flagler counties,” Schaper said. “We’re expecting rainfall to range from 12 to 18 inches, with locally higher amounts approaching two feet.”
USA Today reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Hurricane Ian effects to hit Volusia, Flagler by midday Thursday