Tropical Storm Ian has officially formed. It's moving westward through the Caribbean and showing signs of intensification—pretty much the exact scenario I outlined earlier this week. Ian is the sixth named storm this September.
Most important, of course, is what happens next. Ian will likely move to a position on the south coast of western Cuba late Monday night. While the country is generally mountainous, western Cuba has gentle hills and is very narrow.
Ian will probably have strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane by the time it reaches a position south of Cuba late Monday. Because conditions by that time will be nearly ideal for storm formation, Ian could actually become a Category 3 hurricane by the time it crosses the south Cuban coast, with an explosive development cycle occurring by landfall.
At last November's the Climate Adaptation Center climate conference, when we gave the first-ever climate weather forecast for the 2030, 2040, and 2050, I highlighted the possibility that a hurricane could enter the southeast Gulf of Mexico and rapidly develop before hitting the Suncoast.
Looking at the present situation, it appears this highly dangerous and unwanted scenario could be happening now.
A storm approaching our area from this trajectory would initially have easterly to north-easterly winds blowing offshore. But once the storm passes to the north, its counterclockwise rotation would bring heavy westerly winds along the coast line with accompanying storm surge on an already raised sea level—the result of global warming.
While this scenario is not locked in right now, we must take it seriously. Here's a potential timeline for the next few days.
As the storm passes over western Cuba, delivering a big hit on that country, it will emerge into the southeast Gulf of Mexico with little impact on its intensity from its path across Cuba's narrow and less-rugged western provinces.
At this point the storm will be less than two days from landfall should it decide to strike our area with full force. That does not give much time to prepare unless you begin now.
While the storm center could miss our area and deliver a minor hit, the potential that it won't requires earlier preparation then passed storms.
I remind you of Hurricane Eta in November 2019. By the time this hurricane approached Sarasota and Tampa it had weakened into a tropical storm, with winds gusting to less than 60 miles an hour. But the flooding was the highest ever seen in our area in many locations.
With Ian having the potential to be much worse, its approach to Sarasota and the Suncoast on Tuesday and Wednesday will surely be an important event for our communities.
Conditions will likely begin to deteriorate on Tuesday night and then the following 24 hours looks like the time of major concern.
We'll keep you posted with more updates as we have them.
Bob Bunting is a scientist, entrepreneur and educator and the CEO of the nation’s first Climate Adaptation Center (CAC), headquartered in Sarasota. The Climate Adaptation Center is an expert resource to inform government, academe and the private sector so they can create the necessary adaptation strategies and actions to protect the Florida way of life and foster the climate economy as well as larger global solutions evolve to solve the climate problem. For more information, visit theclimateadaptationcenter.org.