Forecasts now show the storm path for Tropical Storm Ian shifting west toward the Panhandle away from Southwest Florida. But Gov. Ron DeSantis stressed a similar message as meteorologists: Essentially, no one knows for sure the eventual path of the storm.
“It’s important to point out to folks that the path of this is still uncertain,” DeSantis said at an 11:30 a.m. press conference on Sunday. “The impacts will be broad throughout the state of Florida.”
The most recent storm forecasts from the National Hurricane Center show the storm could make landfall anywhere from Tampa Bay to Escambia County between Wednesday and Friday.
The tropical storm is expected to became a hurricane on Monday and grow to a major Category 4 hurricane when it hits or passes by Western Cuba on Tuesday. (Read the latest updates here.)
Once the storm passes Cuba, meteorologists stress significant uncertainty in modeling about the anticipated path and intensity of the storm.
Kevin Guthrie, Director of the state Division of Emergency Management, noted that even if the hurricane diminishes in strength before it makes landfall, the state could still experience storm surge generated by a Category 4 storm.
“Regardless of Ian’s expected track intensity, we are preparing for dangerous storm surge,” Guthrie said. “I would just mention that these models, while all have them have Ian going up to a Cat 4, that envelope of water will not stop due to high pressure or dry air. That has no bearing on storm surge. So we could see a situation where we have Cat 4 storm surge and potentially a Cat 1 or 2 hurricane landfall.”
The state stresses individuals throughout Florida should prepare for likely power outages and fuel supply issues.
At the same time, DeSantis and Guthrie sounded caution about evacuations. Individuals should learn now what flood zone they reside in and whether their home was built to withstand major hurricane force winds. While authorities will not force people to leave their homes in the event of an evacuation order, people should take such developments seriously.
But those in safe areas and homes may shelter in place. Guthrie stressed the state saw over-evacuation of about 2 million people when Hurricane Irma hit the state.
DeSantis said residents should be mindful whether the situation warrants fleeing the area.
“You put people on the road, that’s not cost free. There’s traffic. There’s fatalities on the roads. So you want to be very careful about doing that,” DeSantis said. “At the same time. If you have vulnerable populations in Pinellas County, where you have mobile homes, senior facilities, you want to make sure that they’re given the safety. So those are all the factors that are looked at.”
DeSantis said he was thankful President Joe Biden authorized a state of emergency. “We appreciate it,” he said, and said FEMA has been quick and proactive in helping the state to date.
Asked about reimbursement rates in federal money for storm-struck areas, DeSantis noted by default, FEMA will reimburse 75% of costs. The state will request a higher reimbursement in that is warranted at the appropriate time.
During Hurricane Michael in 2018, reimbursement went as high as 100% for a period of time, and remained at 90% for a longer period.
“You had places like Mexico Beach, their annual budget, I think, was $3 million, and their debris costs (after Hurricane Michael) were $100 million or something. So obviously, they needed that support,” DeSantis said. “We will be requesting whatever we need to make sure Florida communities get through this.”