AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hurricane Ian made landfall as a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane along the southwest coast of Florida Wednesday afternoon. The threat of heavy rain and flooding continues for parts of the southeast U.S. Thursday and Friday as the now tropical storm continues to trek north.
But the storm has already solidified itself in the record books.
Here’s a look at what we know now, confirmed reports and a preliminary forecast analysis.
Devastation to southwest Florida
Th southwest coast of Florida took the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s wrath with landfall on the island of Cayo Costa, 23 miles west of the city of Fort Myers.
As of 8 a.m. Thursday, rainfall totals have ranged anywhere from 2 to 17 inches across the Florida panhandle. Below are a few of those preliminary totals:
- Lake Wales (62 miles east of Tampa): 16.99″
- Clearwater Beach: 10.78″
- Nokomis (72 miles south of Tampa): 14.2″
- Tampa: 2.1″
Hurricane Ian’s storm surge led to record-breaking water levels at both Naples and Fort Myers. Naples’ previous record was near 3 feet, while preliminary water levels show a surge of just over 9 feet.
Fort Myers had a previous surge record of 3.36 feet from Hurricane Gabrielle in 2001. Preliminary water levels show a height of 8.57 feet.
Hurricane-force winds came ashore as Ian hit the Florida coastline. Here a few confirmed maximum wind gusts:
- Cape Coral: 140 mph
- Punta Gorda: 124 mph
- Venice: 104 mph
- Tampa: 75 mph
As of Thursday morning, 2 million Floridians were without power. This comes after the storm slammed into Cuba, taking out the island’s power grid earlier in the week.
Top 5 strongest storms
Hurricane Ian’s landfall winds of 150 mph tied it for the fifth-strongest on U.S. record by maximum sustained winds.
What happened to Tampa Bay?
As Hurricane Ian approached the coast, it took a slight jog to the east, bringing the worst of the impacts closer to Fort Myers and sparing the Tampa area most of the devastation.
Tampa did see tropical storm-force winds and bands of heavy rain but did not see significant storm surge. In fact, the water in the bay retreated into the ocean. How did that happen? Short answer: off-shore winds.
Hurricane Ian approaching the coast from the west meant the storm sat to the left of the coast. As winds turn counter-clockwise around a hurricane, this resulted in winds wrapping around the west side of the hurricane and pushed east into the Fort Myers area. On the top end, winds wrapped into the storm from the east, blowing offshore from land to ocean. This offshore wind was strong enough to actually push the water back from the shoreline.
These strong offshore winds brought the water level down 8 feet before refilling the bay once the winds turned back westerly.
Hurricane Ian’s landfall forecast was difficult from the start due to a lack of steering winds (or winds higher in the atmosphere that act to “steer” a storm left or right) in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
The Category 4 storm ended up shifting slightly east while intensifying hours before landfall. Hurricane hunters found winds of 155 mph in their last flight through the storm, putting Ian just 2 mph shy of Category 5 strength.