Tropical Storm Ian: Too soon to issue evacuation orders in Florida due to track's uncertainty

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday advised people from Tampa to Pensacola to keep their eyes on what could be a dangerous hurricane later this week.

But while staging efforts were underway to prepare for the storm’s aftermath, DeSantis and emergency officials said it remained too soon for issuing evacuation orders because of uncertainty about the track of Tropical Storm Ian, which was expected to rapidly reach hurricane status Sunday.

"There are some models that want to tug this thing more deep into the Florida Panhandle. There are also some that want to bring it from landfall in the Tampa Bay region," DeSantis told reporters at the state Emergency Operations Center. "So, from the Tampa Bay area all the way up to Escambia County along Florida's Gulf Coast, you could potentially see it make landfall in any of those places as of right now."

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DeSantis on Friday declared a state of emergency that covered 24 counties throughout the southern part of the state and parts of Central Florida. But tracking models then nudged the potential track west and north, and DeSantis on Saturday declared a state of emergency for all of Florida.

In evaluating evacuation orders, officials are concerned about putting too many people on the road, as happened in 2017 when about 5 million people were evacuated during the approach of Hurricane Irma, which swept south to north through the state.

"When you put people on the road, that's not cost-free," DeSantis said. "I mean, there's traffic. There's fatalities on the road. So, you want to be very careful about doing that."

Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, who said the state "over-evacuated" in Irma by nearly 2 million people, said urban search-and-rescue support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on standby, and Florida has received calls from other Southern states offering assistance.

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President Joe Biden late Saturday approved an emergency declaration that made federal emergency aid available. "We appreciate that quick action," DeSantis said.

How is Florida preparing for Tropical Storm Ian?

Florida has waived weight restrictions on certain trucks to help maintain fuel supplies, activated 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard and has more than 2 million meals and more than 1 million gallons of water ready for areas that lose power when hit by the storm.

Emergency management officials are working with fuel providers and utilities throughout the state, Guthrie said. Duke Energy Florida also said it will place crews and other resources near areas likely to be hit by the storm.

TRACKING IAN: Here is the latest track and potential path to Florida

"Restoring power as safely and quickly as possible, while keeping our customers informed, remains our top priority," Melissa Seixas, Duke Energy Florida state president, said in a prepared statement Sunday. "We want customers to know that our team is ready to respond to Ian or any other storm that could pose a threat to our electric system."

Expected to rapidly grow, Ian was forecast Sunday morning to be a major hurricane when it passes near or over western Cuba and is expected to continue as a hurricane as it moves generally north through the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the middle of the week.

Tropical storm-force winds could start affecting the Florida Keys late Monday, Central Florida on Tuesday night and the Panhandle on Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center said flash flooding and urban flooding is possible in the Keys and the Florida peninsula, with additional flooding on rivers in North Florida.

"Heavy rainfall may affect North Florida, the Florida Panhandle and the Southeast United States Thursday, Friday and Saturday," the hurricane center said in an 11 a.m. advisory Sunday.

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Midday Sunday, the hurricane center said Ian was about 570 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba moving 14 miles to the west-northwest and packing 50 mph sustained winds.

A gradual turn to the northwest was expected by the end of Sunday.

The forecast "cone" stretched from the western Panhandle to Central Florida, with tracking models differing on the route.

"Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of the week, and residents in Florida should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place, follow any advice given by local officials and closely monitor updates to the forecast," the hurricane center advised.