Track Hurricane Ian's path as it takes aim at Florida's west coast

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Hurricane Ian is set to take aim at Florida's west coast as early as Wednesday according to the National Hurricane Center.

Ian strengthened into a major Category 3 storm early Tuesday morning as it made landfall in western Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, the NHC said. The storm is expected to remain a major hurricane when it reaches the Florida west coast, it said.

A hurricane warning was in place for parts of the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach to the Anclote River, including Tampa Bay, as of early Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, a hurricane watch was in affect from north of the Anclote River to the Suwannee River.

A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within an identified area, while a hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible within a given area, according to the NHC.

Ian is expected to spend only spend a few hours over western Cuba after making landfall just southwest of the town of La Coloma in the Pinar Del Río province, the NHC said. There is expected to be little overall change in the hurricane's strength during that time, it said.

The center of the storm was expected to emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico later Tuesday morning, where "warm water and generally low vertical wind shear conditions are expected to allow for additional intensification," the hurricane center said. The NHC forecast called for Ian to reach Category 4 strength before eventually seeing gradual weakening.

What initially formed as Tropical Depression Nine early Friday morning strengthened that night into Tropical Storm Ian, the NHC said.

The hurricane is forecast to bring 8 to 15 inches of rain to central West Florida, 3 to 8 inches to the rest of the Florida Peninsula and 4 to 6 inches to the Keys.

"Heavy rainfall is expected to affect North Florida, eastern portions of the Florida Panhandle, and portions of the Southeast, and Mid Atlantic regions Friday and Saturday," the NHC said. This rain can cause "considerable flooding impacts" mid-to-late week in central Florida and flash and urban flooding across the Florida Keys and peninsula through midweek.

Flooding and rising of streams and rivers over northern Florida and parts of the southeast U.S. are also possible mid-to-late-week.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday declared a state of emergency for 24 counties when the system was a tropical depression.

On Saturday, the governor expanded that to apply statewide, citing the risk of a major hurricane making landfall on Florida’s western coast.

President Joe Biden authorized federal aid.

Biden also postponed a Florida trip scheduled for Tuesday because of the storm, the White House said Saturday. The president had planned to go to Fort Lauderdale and then to a Democratic National Committee rally in Orlando. The DNC said the rally had been postponed.

A mandatory evacuation was issued for some residents in Hillsborough County on the westernmost part of the Florida Peninsula on Monday. Emergency shelters were opened in the county, which includes Tampa.

County Administrator Bonnie Wise told reporters the orders and recommendations for evacuation will go into effect at 2 p.m. on Monday.

“We did not make this decision easily, but the storm poses a serious threat and we must do everything we can to protect our residents,” Wise said during a news conference.

A hurricane hasn’t made landfall on the Florida Peninsula in five years, since Irma in 2017, while the northwestern part of the state was pummeled by Sally in 2020 and Michael in 2018.

NASA is foregoing a launch opportunity for Artemis I for the third time on Sept. 27 due to the hurricane and to allow the team “to configure systems for rolling back the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to the Vehicle Assembly Building.” The lunar rocket sits on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

NASA will make a final decision about the rollback on Sunday, according to a press release.

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