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Wednesday updates: Hurricane Ian punishes Florida with devastating winds, storm surge

Tampa Bay Times 9/29/2022 Christopher Spata, Lauren Peace, Bethany Barnes, Tampa Bay Times
Hurricane Ian is causing water to recede from Tampa Bay as it approaches Florida's west coast. Bayshore Boulevard at 10:25 a.m. Wednesday show water has been sucked out of the bay. © Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times/TNS Hurricane Ian is causing water to recede from Tampa Bay as it approaches Florida's west coast. Bayshore Boulevard at 10:25 a.m. Wednesday show water has been sucked out of the bay.

Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday, with early images showing devastating effects in the Fort Myers area and other parts of southwest Florida. An 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center had Ian’s winds decreasing to 90 mph, making it now a Category 1 hurricane. Ian made landfall in Florida with 150 mph winds, almost the strength of a Category 5.

Boats parks themselves close to the shoreline as a reverse storm surge occurs near the Dunedin Causeway on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Dunedin. © Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS Boats parks themselves close to the shoreline as a reverse storm surge occurs near the Dunedin Causeway on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Dunedin.

Conditions for Tampa Bay remain serious, with Mayor Jane Castor stressing to residents that the next 24 hours will be the most dangerous in Tampa. Nearly 485,000 outages have been reported in the Tampa Bay area. And more than 1.8 million homes and businesses have lost power in Florida.

5 a.m.: Section of causeway leading to Sanibel is gone

Tampa Bay Times reporter Zachary T. Sampson photojournalist Douglas R. Clifford left their hotel room in Fort Myers late Wednesday night and have been searching the area and assessing the damage from Hurricane Ian for hours.

Aerial view of people that stopped along Bayshore Blvd. to see the effects of Hurricane Ian which produced a reverse storm surge, pulling water out of Hillsborough Bay on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022 in Tampa. © Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times/TNS Aerial view of people that stopped along Bayshore Blvd. to see the effects of Hurricane Ian which produced a reverse storm surge, pulling water out of Hillsborough Bay on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022 in Tampa.

Their latest find is jaw-dropping: A section of the causeway leading to Sanibel is gone, wiped out by the powerful Category 4 storm.

Another part of the road is folded up like an accordion and ripped to ribbons by the powerful storm.

Kelly and Jack Berrenger watch reports on Hurricane Ian from their hotel in Orlando. They chose to evacuate their Tarpon Springs home earlier this week. © Mark. Katches/Tampa Bay Times/TNS Kelly and Jack Berrenger watch reports on Hurricane Ian from their hotel in Orlando. They chose to evacuate their Tarpon Springs home earlier this week.

You can read their dispatches here.

John Doyle, of New Port Richey, helps his friend board up his home to prepare for the hurricane near the 300 block of Country Club Dr. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Oldsmar. © Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS John Doyle, of New Port Richey, helps his friend board up his home to prepare for the hurricane near the 300 block of Country Club Dr. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Oldsmar.

4:45 a.m.: Power outages in Tampa Bay now half-million

Officials say 291,620 Tampa Electric Co. customers are without power. About 191,000 people in Pinellas County are without power as well. Another 25,945 in Pasco County are without power.

The total, as of 4:30 a.m. Thursday, was 508,549.

Full story here.

— Chris Tisch

11:58 p.m.: Water still high in Fort Myers

FORT MYERS — Building alarms blared through, the wind still rustling downtown shortly before midnight. Shin-high, gray water rippled down First Street outside the United States Courthouse. Small pieces of trash drifted in the current.

Brianna Renas, 17, inspects a fallen palm tree outside her home at Santa Barbara Blvd and SE 39th St Terrace in Cape Coral after riding out Hurricane Ian with her family on Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022 in Cape Coral. © Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/TNS Brianna Renas, 17, inspects a fallen palm tree outside her home at Santa Barbara Blvd and SE 39th St Terrace in Cape Coral after riding out Hurricane Ian with her family on Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022 in Cape Coral.

Water still filled some streets in neighborhoods off McGregor Boulevard, southwest of the city center. It drifted halfway up the poles of white mailboxes.

A pickup truck navigates a flooded section of First Street outside of the United States Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers on Wednesday, where storm surge continued to inundate Lee County long after the eye wall passed into Central Florida. © Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/TNS A pickup truck navigates a flooded section of First Street outside of the United States Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers on Wednesday, where storm surge continued to inundate Lee County long after the eye wall passed into Central Florida.

A few houses shone out of complete blackness, generators humming.

Felled branches — and some whole trees — littered the lawns.

A few pickup trucks were stuck on the road out to Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. One of the drivers had boats to check on.

The water was still too high.

— Zachary T. Sampson

11:42 p.m.: St. Petersburg crews to assess damage Thursday

Mayor Ken Welch said St. Petersburg police, firefighters and other city employees will assess the damage from Hurricane Ian Thursday morning “at first daybreak.” Crews Thursday morning will look for fallen trees and downed power lines. That work will make it easier for Duke Energy to begin restoring power. Read more here.

— Colleen Wright

11:31 p.m.: ‘My dad had to flee his home in chest-deep water’

11:18 p.m.: Strong winds in Charlotte Bay

11:07 p.m.: Ian now Category 1 hurricane

Ian’s maximum winds decreased to 95 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane, according to an 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

10:56 p.m.: Dire conditions at Port Charlotte hospital reported

10:23 p.m.: City of Venice tweets damage to theater

10:21 p.m.: Heavy rainfall as Ian moves inland

10:08 p.m.: Dispatch from Cape Coral

CAPE CORAL — Hours after Hurricane Ian made landfall near Caya Costa, this city that once rose improbably from wetlands was pitch black Wednesday night. John Renas, 42, surveyed his yard with two of his children, their headlamps darting over knee-high floodwater.

“It was just blasting us for hours,” said Renas, who has lived in the area since he was 16. They never really considered evacuating for Ian, he said. The surge climbed to the edge of their house at the corner of Santa Barbara Boulevard and SE 39th Terrace. The wind was equally terrifying, shaking and lifting the eaves. For hours, Renas said, it felt like the wind was going to suck out the doors. He held onto one, he said, and his son, Zak Irwin, clutched the other.

“The howling, just something I’ll never forget,” Renas said.

“Like cars revving their engines,” said daughter Brianna Renas, 17.

“Or a plane flying overhead,” Irwin said.

Renas said his 12-year-old daughter was having fun at first, treating shelter-in-place like camping trip. Then she looked outside and saw the floodwaters creeping closer. She started to cry.

Murky brown seawater still soaked their front and side yards about 9:30 p.m. It lapped against a toppled palm tree, beside which Renas’ daughter usually waits for the school bus.About 100 yards up the street, a white car lay abandoned in the road, water up to the floorboards.

“Next time they tell us to evacuate,” he said, “I’ll leave.”

— Zachary T. Sampson

9:19 p.m.: Ian’s winds decreasing to 105 mph

9:15 p.m.: Tropical cyclone update

9:00 p.m.: Ian expected to turn north, head to east coast of Florida

As of 8 p.m., Ian’s center was about 30 miles northeast of Punta Gorda and 95 miles south-southwest of Orlando. Moving north-northeast at about 8 mph, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, with higher gusts, Wednesday night. Forecasters expect Ian’s center to move across Central Florida Wednesday night into Thursday morning, then emerge over the western Atlantic by late Thursday. According to the hurricane center’s 8 p.m. update, the system will turn north and head toward the east coast of Florida before reaching the Georgia and South Carolina coasts late Friday. Read more here.

— Amy Gehrt

8:34 p.m.: Tampa traffic light comes crashing down

8:16 p.m.: Intense footage of Ian

8:08 p.m.: Flash Flood warning issued

7:57 p.m.: Power outages continue

Officials say 200,000 Tampa Electric Co. customers are without power. About 163,000 people in Pinellas County are without power as well. Another 8,000 in Pasco County are without power.

The total, as of 7:30, is quickly approaching 400,000. That is nearly 30% of Duke Energy customers in St Petersburg and about 25% of TECO customers in Hillsborough County.

— Matt Cohen

7:45 p.m.: Tampa officials: Next 24 hours will be the most dangerous

City of Tampa officials urged residents to shelter in place late Wednesday, saying the area has yet to see the worst of Hurricane Ian.

During a 5:30 p.m. news conference, Mayor Jane Castor said the next 24 hours will be the most dangerous for Tampa, and people should stay inside.

“We are going to get the majority of the rain and the higher winds starting about 8 p.m., and they are going to last throughout the night,” Castor said. “It’s still going to cause flooding.” Read more here.

— Sam Ogozalek

6:55 p.m. Many in Southwest Florida didn’t evacuate, need help

Emergency call centers have received potentially hundreds of calls for help from residents in Southwest Florida who didn’t evacuate prior to Hurricane Ian’s landfall, state officials said. In Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, 911 call centers are down and being rerouted to smaller counties. Officials don’t yet know how many people need to be rescued.

“We had one small rural county that was answering calls for the larger counties saying that they had hundreds of calls,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said they know some people who didn’t leave the high-risk Zone A evacuation areas have called for help. Rescue crews will move in by land, air and water as soon as it’s safe, he said.

“Those people are being logged, and there will be a response,” DeSantis said. “But it’s likely going to take a little time for the storm to move forward so that it’s safe for the first responders to be able to do that.”

Guthrie urged residents not to go out and try to rescue people on their own. “That is very, very dangerous,” he said. “Do not take your personal boat out in these situations. We do not want to have to respond to yet another problem.”

Hurricane Ian made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm, and DeSantis said it might be that only 2018′s Hurricane Michael and 1992′s Hurricane Andrew were stronger storms when they made landfall.

“I think we’re going to end up seeing that it may end up being a Category 5,” DeSantis said. “But at a minimum, it’s going to be a very strong Category 4 that’s going to rank as one of the top five hurricanes to ever hit the Florida peninsula.”

Storm surge has been as high as 12 feet in some areas, and communities in northeast Florida, where Hurricane Ian is expected to leave the state, are issuing evacuation orders in anticipation of storm surge and flooding, DeSantis said. Tornadoes also are a threat. On Wednesday, seven to 10 tornado warnings were issued, and in one hour last night the state saw 19 to 20 tornado warnings issued, state emergency officials said Wednesday evening.

“This storm is doing a number on the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.

Officials are indicating that most of the damage from Ian could be from flooding, which could pose a serious problem for people in parts of the state who might not have flood insurance. Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run insurer of last resort that covers more residences than about any other company, said Wednesday it estimates it may see 225,000 claims from Hurricane Ian.

The company doesn’t offer flood insurance, which mostly is offered through the federal National Flood Insurance Program. Preliminary estimates, also made before landfall, indicate $3.8 billion in losses for Citizens, spokesperson Michael Peltier said. DeSantis said Citizens has billions more in surplus, however.

“They view themselves as being able to weather this,” he said.

— Lawrence Mower

6:35 p.m.: Piney Point officials confident site won’t be a threat

The expected rainfall from Hurricane Ian will raise water levels at Piney Point, an abandoned former phosphate plant in Manatee County, but site officials say they are prepared for the storm. Piney Point has been an environmental headache since it was abandoned in 2001. Read more here.

— Christopher O’Donnell

6:10 p.m.: Satellite imagery shows scale Hurricane Ian as eye makes landfall

5:57 p.m.: What to do if Hurricane Ian damages your home

The Tampa Bay region is likely to see the worst of the damage from Hurricane Ian between now and midnight. Officials are asking residents to continue sheltering until the storm passes.

If you’re worried about property damage, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s a guide to help you navigate the aftermath.

5:45 p.m.: Video from hurricane hunter shows turbulence in eye of Ian

St. Petersburg local and NOAA Hurricane Hunter Nick Underwood shared video from a scheduled flight into the eye of Hurricane Ian that he took early Wednesday morning.

Underwood, who works as an engineer for NOAA and helps monitor the trajectory and speed of hurricanes, said the flight was the roughest he’s taken.

5:35 p.m.: Pinellas transit to resume Saturday

PSTA is planning to resume all fixed route service beginning on Saturday, Oct. 1, according to a news release.

The agency will be completely shut down tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 29.

On Friday, PSTA will be assisting the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center by providing evacuation services. In addition, PSTA Access Paratransit services will be providing essential medical transportation, the release stated. — Olivia George

5:20 p.m.: Destruction continues in southwest Florida

Hurricane Ian continues to batter southwest Florida.

A 5:00 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center states the Category 4 hurricane is sitting about five miles east of Punta Gorda, and about 120 miles south southwest of Orlando.

Hurricane and storm surge warnings remain in effect for Tampa Bay, according to the report.

According to the update, the center of Hurricane Ian is expected to move across central Florida tonight and Thursday morning. It’s expected to continue over the western Atlantic by late Thursday night, according to the Hurricane Center, posing risk to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Friday.

While the hurricane continues to devastate the south gulf coast of Florida, including Naples and Fort Myers, maximum sustained winds have decreased to about 140 mph.

Tampa Bay and surrounding areas should anticipate four to six feet of storm surge.

4:32 p.m.: Updates from shelters in Pasco and Hillsborough Counties

As of 3:50 p.m., Pasco County reported 1,264 people in its general population shelters, as well as 122 people in the special-needs shelters and 218 pets.

At 3:30 p.m., Hillsborough County reported 7,830 people evacuated to one of its emergency shelters. — C.T. Bowen

4:25 p.m.: Beware of scammers this hurricane season

If you got an email from Tampa Electric Co. in the last 24 hours, telling you to pay up or lose power, send that message straight to your junk folder.

The company has suspended disconnections until further notice to focus on Hurricane Ian, one company employee said, but that hasn’t stopped scammers from capitalizing on vulnerable times. The TECO representative said the company has seen an uptick in con emails since the storm began rolling in, asking people for payments under false pretenses.

Learn more, by clicking here.

4:11 p.m.: Inmates evacuated as Hurricane Ian makes landfall

About 2,500 Florida inmates were evacuated from their Florida correctional facilities to prepare for Hurricane Ian, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. The following prisons, community release centers, and work camps have been evacuated:

  • Bradenton Bridge
  • Bridges of Jax
  • Bridges of Lake City
  • Bridges of Santa Fe
  • Ft. Pierce CRC
  • Hernando CI
  • Jax Bridges
  • Lancaster Work Camp
  • Largo Road Prison
  • Miami North CRC
  • Opa Locka CRC
  • Orlando CRC
  • Reality House
  • Shisha House
  • St. Pete CRC
  • Suncoast CRC
  • Tallahassee CRC
  • Tomoka CRC
  • Tomoka Work Camp
  • TTH Bartow
  • TTH of Dinsmore
  • TTH Tarpon Springs
  • Turning Point CRC

Satellite facilities, like work camps, were evacuated “in an abundance of caution,” according to the department, and inmates were moved into the larger main units that are better equipped for the storm.

The locations of inmates are updated online about 24 hours after relocation.

The department also said that all correctional facilities have a generator ready if power is lost, and that fuel supply has been checked.

Extra food and water has also been ordered for prisons and facilities in the path of the storm, according to the department. — Romy Ellenbogen

4:06 p.m.: Vacation continues for cruise passengers as ship fails to dock

Hurricane Ian has extended the vacation of a few thousand cruise passengers out of Tampa Bay.

The Carnival Paradise, which was scheduled to return to Port Tampa Bay this week, instead extended a trip to Cozumel, Mexico, overnight.

The ship is scheduled to leave Cozumel today, Carnival spokesperson Matt Lupoli said, and will resume course for Tampa, “remaining a safe distance from the storm.”

The company will determine when Paradise can return after the U.S. Coast Guard and Port Tampa Bay assess conditions there.

“Our thoughts are with our guests and local residents who are affected by the storm,” Lupoli said in a statement.

Paradise had been scheduled to leave on another cruise from Port Tampa Bay on Thursday, but that voyage has been canceled, Lupoli said.

People originally scheduled to depart on that cruise will be fully refunded and given a 25% credit for future cruises, Carnival said. — Jay Cridlin

3:58 p.m.: Boil water notices expected

The Florida Department of Health warns Florida residents to keep an eye out for boil water notices in their community after Hurricane Ian moves through. Notices will be posted online at https://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/drinking-water/boil-water-notices/.

One notice has already been issued for some Pasco County residents, due to a water main break.

“Customers in the Beacon Square subdivision in Holiday, east side of Columbus Drive and west side of Rock Royal Drive between Moog Road and Beacon Square Drive,” need to boil their water, according to a media alert email.

The advisory affects 45 homes, per the email. — Matt Cohen and Romy Ellenbogen

3:41 p.m.: Hillsborough suspends on-demand transit, suspends all services

HART suspended all public transit services, per an email from the agency.

The Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center announced that flash flooding and strengthening winds may create hazards on the roadways making it unsafe for HART customers and employees.

Earlier today, the agency was responding to on-demand trips outside of the Mandatory Evacuation Zones A and B. — Olivia George

3:37 p.m.: St. Petersburg mayor braces for night ahead

On the Ryan Gorman Show on WFLA Radio, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said the city should be ready for a rough night Wednesday.

“We’re focused on staying the course,” he said. “We’re going to have a rough few hours ahead of us through the night.”

Welch said the city is facing a “significant weather event” Wednesday night with high winds reaching the hurricane stage and “quite a bit of rain.”

He urged residents to stay hunkered down for tonight.

At first light Thursday, Welch said the city will clear the roads. He said there are reports of downed power lines and trees, and asked residents to “just be patient for one night.”

As for power restoration, winds have to be under tropical storm levels for Duke Energy to send their crews. — Colleen Wright

3:18 p.m.: Power outages surpass 100,000

More than 100,000 outages have been reported across Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties as Hurricane Ian reaches southwest Florida.

3:15 p.m.: Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida

As the outer edge of Category 4 Hurricane Ian touches down on southwest Florida, satellite images put the scale of the storm into perspective.

Click here for a closer look.

3:00 p.m.: Videos and images from Fort Myers show force of storm, destruction

2:43 p.m.: Time-lapse from Sanibel Island shows water rushing in

A tweet from Sanibel Island shows the effect of storm surge over a 30-minute period as flooding begins.

2:28 p.m.: Sign up for Florida’s emergency contact information system

Florida has a system that can be used to notify friends and family if you can’t talk during a an emergency.

It’s similar to what you’d fill out at a medical appointment. Simply register your information, and that of your emergency contact, with the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles department, and law enforcement will be able to get in touch with your loved ones in the event that you are unable to.

Learn more about the system and how to sign up, here.

2:20 p.m.: Police chief warns of harsher penalties for burglaries during storm

Tampa Police have arrested two individuals on misdemeanor charges after they were spotted with “burglary tools” outside the IKEA in Tampa, spokesperson Crystal Clark said.

Police responded to the disturbance just after midnight Wednesday, where they found the two suspects with backpacks, walkie-talkies and their tools, Clark said.

Agencies from around the Tampa Bay area said they have not seen a spike in looting or burglaries thus far, but Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor warned in a Wednesday press conference that those accused of burglaries and looting during the storm will face more serious charges. — Natalie Weber

2:17 p.m.: Tampa hospital preps as storm approaches

An outdoor barrier equipped to handle 15-foot surge went up around Tampa General Hospital on Wednesday in preparation for Hurricane Ian.

The hospital is the region’s only Level 1 trauma center. In its care are people with serious and life-threatening injuries, which means that while other area medical centers closed and evacuated this week, Tampa General had to plan to stay operational throughout the storm.

Read more about how hospital staff took action, here.

2:09 p.m.: Castor stops by Bayshore Boulevard

Times reporter Sam Ogozalek was with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor Wednesday afternoon, as she took a look at the bay.

Reverse storm surge pulled water away from Tampa early Wednesday, but that water will return and dangerous surge levels are expected.

1:57 p.m.: Tree blocks road in Lithia

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office reported a downed tree near the 17000 block of Dorman Road in Lithia.

The tree is blocking the entire road, according to a tweet from the office, and TECO is aware.

The tweet warned that residents should assume all downed power lines are live. Take caution.

1:42 p.m.: Power outages jump past 50,000

More than 50,000 outages have been reported in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties as Hurricane Ian reaches southwest Florida. — Dan Sullivan

1:31 p.m.: From Orlando hotel, Tarpon Springs couple keep eyes on home

At the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, evacuees from Tampa Bay – and their pets – had mostly overtaken the 10-story hotel. Intermittent barks and yelps permeated the lobby, bouncing off the glass ceiling.

Jack and Kelly Berrenger finished a quick walk with their 8-year-old Bichon Frise Teddy ( Cats Rose and Violet stayed in the room). The couple paused to watch the storm pummel Fort Myers on a massive television screen tuned to the Weather Channel in the hotel lobby.

“It’s a little bit stressful,” Kelly said.

In a B zone in Tarpon Springs, they didn’t technically have to evacuate as early as they did, but the couple made the three-hour trek to Orlando on Monday ahead of a mandatory evacuation order. Jack said their vehicle was “stuffed to the max” with bags, pet carriers, litter boxes and two pallets of water from Costco.

They live 12 blocks from the water in a single story ranch that they’re monitoring with a home security system. “Right now it doesn’t look too bad,” Kelly said. It could get worse in Orlando, however. Ian is expected to bring gusts up to 80 mph there late Wednesday evening. — Mark Katches

1:25 p.m.: Flooding begins in Hillsborough County

Data from the United States Geological Survey shows flooding along Little Manatee River, near Wimauma.

Other areas to watch include Cypress Creek, Hillsborough River between Temple Terrace and Zephyrhills, and Peace River in Bartow.

1:15 p.m.: Against safety advisory, Tampa locals clomp around Hillsborough Bay

Seventeen-year-old Jake Brill did it for the ‘gram.

One year old Murphy, a golden retriever, did it for the mud.

It was probably a bad idea, but it was so hard to resist clomping out onto Hillsborough Bay for the chance to take a selfie from the other side of Bayshore Boulevard’s iconic balustrade Wednesday morning.

Just like Hurricane Irma did in 2017, an ever-strengthening Hurricane Ian pulled the waters away from Tampa Bay’s shores in a weather phenomenon meteorologists call a “reverse storm surge.”

Boatwright scrambled to pull up roughly 300 crab traps sprinkled across the waters of Tampa Bay as Hurricane Ian neared. But once again, he said, the scramble to brace for impact ended in a last-minute sigh of relief.

“I don’t know why it is that Tampa Bay always seems to get lucky,” Boatwright, 58, said. “You can’t help but feel sorry for them that they’re about to take on our storm.”

Tampa Police officers quickly gave up their fight to keep curious onlookers on land as a steady stream ventured out into the Bay. Instead they simply drove up and down the busy thoroughfare, reminding residents that Bayshore is an open roadway and asking that they park in the median instead of in the bike lanes.

Almost as soon as the water began filtering out, though, the high winds and constant rain became enough of a deterrent for many traveling down Bayshore to simply drive past the strange phenomenon.

From Whisky Joes Tiki Bar off Ben T. Davis Beach, to the pylons and construction cranes surrounding the new expansion on the Howard Frankland Bridge, the waters surrounding Tampa Bay were nearly non-existent by 1 p.m. Wednesday. So too were those willing to stick around for a photo or two. Instead, highways and bridges became eerily quiet as Hurricane Ian crept towards Florida’s shores. — Anastasia Dawson

12:56 p.m.: NOAA hurricane hunter calls flight into Ian ‘worst I’ve ever been on.’

A hurricane hunter from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shared images from a flight into Hurricane Ian’s eye early Wednesday morning.

Nick Underwood, an engineer for NOAA who takes flights into storms to get information including storm trajectory and windspeed, shared via Twitter that he had never witnessed as much lightning in the eye of a hurricane as he did during a recent flight.

In the tweet, Underwood shared a photo looking outside the plane’s window. It looked like daylight.

“Understand that this is at NIGHT. The light is from LIGHTNING,” he tweeted.

“In my six years of doing this, that was the roughest flight I’ve been on,” Underwood told the Times.

He said colleagues who have spent decades chasing hurricanes agreed. — Lauren Peace

12:37 p.m.: Power outages grow in number

Nearly 30,000 outages have been reported in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties as Hurricane Ian reaches southwest Florida. — Lauren Peace

12:30 p.m.: Live videos from around the region show storm conditions

Want to watch Hurricane Ian roll in?

Check out these livestreams, which show real-time storm effects in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Anna Maria Island. — Lauren Peace

12:12 p.m.: The storm surge forecast and radar image

12 p.m.: Tampa ‘not out of the woods’

During an 11:30 a.m. news conference, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor warned that the region is “not out of the woods yet. ”Unprecedented flooding is still likely, said Castor, adding that Hurricane Ian will hit Tampa Bay with significant rainfall later in the day. ”Please don’t let your guard down,” she said, urging those who evacuated to not return yet. Public safety officials also recommended that people stay off the streets and not drive around the city. Castor said she has spoken to the mayors of Fort Myers, Sarasota, Punta Gorda and Naples, offering resources and best wishes. — Matt Cohen

11:46 a.m.: Images from around Tampa Bay show storm’s impact

See more photos here.

11:37 a.m.: Pinellas officials: stay put where you are

“Continue to shelter in place. Breaks in the weather do not mean the storm has passed,” Pinellas County officials said. “The County will announce when shelter in place and evacuation orders are lifted.”

There are about 4,500 residents in Pinellas County public shelters, and the area could experience wind speeds up to 110 miles per hour, storm surge and heavy rain through Thursday morning. The risk of flash flooding in Pinellas County remains high. Prolonged bad weather conditions could weaken trees, carports, fences, and above-ground pools.

As the storm moves slowly across Florida, conditions in Pinellas County are expected to worsen throughout the day, even if the storm remains to the south. The Pinellas County Information Center remains open 24 hours a day for calls at (727) 464-4333. Residents who are deaf or hard of hearing can use online chat at www.bit.ly/PinellasChat. — Colleen Wright

11:16 a.m.: Hillsborough roads unsafe, bus service stopped

Hillsborough County emergency management officials said it is no longer safe to be on the road because of the potential for flash flooding and strengthening winds. Residents should remain sheltered where they are and not attempt to relocate to a shelter or any other location. If there’s an emergency, they should call 911. Crews will respond when it is safe. If you need to take cover, go to an interior room away from widows and bring water. If flooding is a threat, turn off electricity at the main breaker. People should not leave home until officials announce it is safe.

Hillsborough County’s public transit agency ceased fixed-route services at 11 a.m., according to an agency spokesperson. Residents needing transportation can request on-demand trips if they’re outside of the Mandatory Evacuation Zones A and B. ― CT Bowen and Olivia George

11:06 a.m.: Scott makes Ian-Michael comparison

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a former Republican governor who was the state’s top executive during multiple hurricanes, said he’s most concerned about catastrophic storm surge. “The problem you have is people look at the category number and that’s how they think of it,” Scott said in a phone interview.

The category number of a hurricane reflects wind speeds, but even lower category storms can bring huge floods. Scott said Hurricane Ian’s rapid intensification into a Category 4 — only barely under the wind threshold of a Category 5 — was similar to Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 that devastated the Panhandle in 2018.

”It grew pretty fast, like Ian has, and unfortunately we lost people because they didn’t evacuate. If it had started out (earlier) as a Category 5, they would have been out of there in a second.” After visiting Florida earlier this week, Scott was in Washington, D.C. with two grandsons who evacuated from Tampa. — Emily L. Mahoney

11: a.m. forecast track

10:47 a.m.: Giant Hurricane Ian dwarfs Charley

As Hurricane Ian grew into a monster storm it drew troubling comparisons to Hurricane Charley, which devastated Charlotte County in 2004. There was one disturbing difference. While the storms’ tracks were shaping up to be similar, experts noted how Ian dwarfed Charley. By 3 a.m., Wednesday, the diameter of Ian’s eye had grown to about 35 miles. That’s large enough to fit the entire extent of Charley’s hurricane-force wind field, Rick Knabb, a hurricane expert for The Weather Channel, noted in a tweet. More on the comparison here. — Tony Marrero

10:39 a.m.: TIA will stay closed another day

10:32 a.m.: Pasco shelters people, pets

At 10:30 a.m., Pasco County reported 943 people in its general population shelters and 114 people in two special-needs shelters. The shelters also are holding 170 pets. . — CT Bowen.

10:26 a.m.: No visitors at BayCare hospitals

No visitors will be permitted in BayCare Health System hospitals after 5 p.m. today, the nonprofit advised Wednesday morning. Exceptions will be made for obstetric, neonatal intensive and pediatric units where patients can have one visitor throughout the storm. BayCare is offering one free telehealth visit for all registered users of BayCareAnywhere through Oct. 12. Anyone with an immediate medical need can get a telehealth visit through the BayCareAnywhere app. Use the coupon code ‘IAN’ when prompted. — Christopher O’Donnell

10:15 a.m.: Hillsborough jail evacuated

Incarcerated people at Hillsborough County’s Orient Road Jail, which is in mandatory evacuation Zone A, have been moved inland ahead of Hurricane Ian. About 160 people were transferred to the county’s Falkenburg Road Jail facility, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson. As Tampa Bay prepares to lose power, The Falkenburg jail is near capacity with 2785 out of 3052 beds full. — Hannah Critchfield

10:00 a.m.: Schools will stay closed longer

Hillsborough County schools will remain closed on Friday, a day longer than originally announced, Superintendent Addison Davis announced on Twitter. Some of the county’s schools were being used as shelters.

9:40 a.m. : Massive Ian pulls water from Tampa Bay

An eerie signal of the approaching storm: Hurricane Ian appears to be pulling water away from Tampa Bay shores.

The St. Petersburg Police department spotted the phenomenon too, at Lassing Park in Old Southeast.

Read more on what causes the water to recede in a hurricane here. — Christopher Spata and Michaela Mulligan

8:20 a.m.: Power outages in Tampa Bay

As wind gusts pick up in Tampa Bay, Duke Energy spokesperson Ana Gibbs told Bay News 9 the company is beginning to see outages across Tampa Bay, with around 1,000 customers in Pinellas County without power. She said Duke has approximately 10,000 workers staged across the state. Some of those power line and vegetation management crews traveled thousands of miles to Florida, she said. “The weather right now is safe enough that line crews are continuing to work to restore service,” she said, but there will come a time shortly when they can’t respond until after the storm passes. Hundreds of Duke vehicles are staged at Tropicana Field.

TECO meanwhile reported more than 5,000 customers without power. The outages were mostly scattered throughout Hillsborough County, though one area of Lithia reported more than 3,000 people without power. Another 1,400 were without power in Ruskin. Find more on outages here. — Christopher Spata and Dan Sullivan

7:48 a.m.: DeSantis: ‘It’s time to hunker down’

With the storm on track for landfall in the area of Charlotte County, between the borders of Lee County to the south and Sarasota County to the north, Gov. Ron DeSantis told residents of that area that it’s too late to evacuate.

“If you’re in one of those counties,” the governor said during a news conference on Ian, “it’s time to hunker down and prepare for this storm. ... This one is the real deal. ... This storm is going to do a lot of damage, so people should be prepared for that.”

The governor described Florida as prepared for the storm, with thousands of National Guard troops, first responders and utility workers on standby.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management asked residents to stay indoors and off the roads as conditions will be “extremely dangerous.” If you get a weather alert for a tornado, “get to an interior room with no windows,” he said. “Remember it is never safe to walk through a flooded area” and if there is a power outage, call your service provider, not 911.

“The storm is here, it is imminent. I know all the emergency managers in southwest Florida. They have more than 200 years combined experience. And I’ll tell you, they are preparing for and expecting a Category 5.” — Christopher Spata

7:45 a.m.: Sunshine Skyway Bridge closes

The Florida Highway Patrol has closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in both directions after winds were clocked between 50 and 60 mph. The bridge will remain closed until the storm passes and the inclement weather subsides, the Highway Patrol said in a news release. Troopers advised drivers who need to be on the roads to check the Florida Highway Patrol Current Traffic Incidents. — Tony Marrero

7 a.m.: ‘Catastrophic’ storm surge expected

6:45 a.m.: Beach access restored

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has announced that effective immediately, access to the county’s barrier islands has been restored for those with a barrier island reentry permit. The county’s evacuation orders are still in effect. —Tony Marrero

Hillsborough County has ordered mandatory evacuation for Zone A, Zone B and mobile homes. Pinellas county ordered mandatory evacuations for Zones A, B, C and mobile homes. Pasco county ordered mandatory evacuation for Zone A. At least 2.5 million people across Florida were ordered to evacuate.

For information on finding a shelter, click on the corresponding county: Hernando County; Hillsborough County; Pasco County; Pinellas County. If you’re headed to a shelter, here’s what to expect.

• • •

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT THE HURRICANE: A school mental health expert says to let them know what’s happening, keep a routine and stay calm.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN A SHELTER: What to bring — and not bring — plus information on pets, keeping it civil and more.

SAFEGUARD YOUR HOME: Storms and property damage go hand in hand. Here’s how to prepare.

IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.

• • •

Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change

PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.

PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.

©2022 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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