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Florida Panhandle to avoid Ian. But downstate is preparing for a big storm

hurricane ian
Marta Lavandier
A man walks his dog during a break of heavy rain, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla. Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall on the west coast of Florida.

As central and south Florida are bracing for Hurricane Ian, it’s a matter of watching and waiting in the Panhandle.

After lashing western Cuba with Category-4 force conditions, Ian is projected to hit southwest Florida between Sarasota and Fort Myers at last check with the National Hurricane Center.

“The impacts are going to be far, far broader than just where the eye of the storm happens to make landfall,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis. “In some areas, there will be catastrophic flooding and life-threatening storm surge.”

DeSantis says power outages are expected across the state in the coming days, adding that utilities have more than 28,000 workers on standby, including crews coming from other states.

Ian’s original track took it up the west coast of Florida to the Big Bend region. Justin Ballard at FPREN — the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network — points to other activity.

“One, we've got an area of high pressure over the Atlantic," he said. "We've also got a trough that's kind of coming in across the eastern half of the U.S. So that trough is helping kind of pivot the storm just a little further to the east. And what was kind of initially forecast.”

While avoiding the brunt of Ian, the Florida Panhandle will actually see dry conditions, low humidity, and higher than usual winds.

“There are some red flag warnings that are up to alert people [that] ‘Hey, now is not the time to do any kind of burning,’” Ballard said. “The next couple of days, winds lasting through Thursday and Friday could be as high as 20 to 30 mph, possibly even getting upwards of 40.”

At the beaches, look for rip currents to be pretty prominent the next couple of days from Wednesday morning through Friday night, compliments of Ian. And Ballard adds his voice to the chorus reminding Floridians that while it’s been relatively quiet so far this season, the season goes until the end of November.

“The only system that we're kind of watching, besides Ian right now, is an area of tropical development possible 70% over the next two to five days as well over the open Atlantic west of the cupboard," Ballard said. “The islands not expected to make any kind of impact locally.”

“There was lot of uncertainty, and we were in the cone of uncertainty. We put the message on Friday that we could have a potential impact and trying to determine actual pinpoint where it's going to hit,” said Eric Gilmore, Escambia County’s Public Safety Director.

One plus, he says, was that when that work began the watchword was “preparedness.”

“People getting fuel or gas and up cans (and) bottled water was becoming a rarity. People took heed to it, and that was a track that wasn't even directed at us,” Gilmore said. “We were just in the cone of uncertainty, so I was pretty proud that our citizens were taking it serious.”

The best part, said Gilmore, is that the supplies purchased for Ian and not needed, will be there if they face a more direct storm.

“We're still in hurricane season, so hold those bottles of water,” he said. “If you checked your generator this past weekend, if we have a storm, God forbid, the rest of the season at least you know your generator is ready to go. You've got gas for it, you've got water [and] you're nonperishable items. So, it was like a good exercise for prep.”

According to the most recent Census figures, Florida welcomed almost 221,000 new residents the past couple of years — many of whom have never experienced a hurricane. That concerns Gilmore and his counterparts around the state. Good info sources are FEMA and local emergency agencies. Another good source are their neighbors.

“What did they go through? What did they see in the community, what they see in the neighborhood? Just kind of give yourself a glimpse,” Gilmore said. “You could really never fully understand how it's going to impact you, until you're in the situation. So ask the people who've been there and done that, and listen to the local officials. Get your checklist. Be prepared.”

Also monitoring Ian is Santa Rosa County, where Tom Lloyd is the new Public Safety Director. They’re focusing on how to handle any exodus from the hardest-hit areas to the Panhandle.

“If we do see a need, we will very quickly open up our shelters," he said. "If we start to see that folks that have evacuated are running into problems finding shelter. We have special needs sheltering and pet friendly shelters, as well as general population shelters.”

New hurricane watches and warnings are now in effect for Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.