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  • Writer's pictureBryan Norcross

Tropical Storm Ian spreads its wind and flooding to North Florida and the Southeast U.S.

Tropical Storm Ian is slowly easing its grip on Southwest Florida, where it produced devastating storm-surge flooding, rainfall flooding, and wind damage across the region. Ian has reached East-Central Florida, but the winds around its broad circulation are still blowing onshore in Fort Myers, Naples, and the surrounding area. This is only allowing the water that pushed inland to recede slowly.

Downtown Fort Myers is about 15 miles up the Caloosahatchee River from the Gulf, but Ian pushed water over 7 feet above normal high tide well past that point on the river. Cape Coral is a large community infused with a canal system near the entrance to the river. The low-lying southern section flooded as salt water streamed into the canals and through the neighborhoods. The surge of Gulf water plowed across the barrier islands like Fort Myers Beach with water up to at least 10 feet.

Significant loss of life is likely in these flooded areas closest to the Gulf, where the water moved in with a velocity and the hurricane's power behind it.

Just to the south, Naples doesn't have barrier islands like Fort Myers. There the surge came over the beach and flooded downtown chest-deep in water.

Other nearby areas received more wind or rain and less surge, but destruction from one hazard or the other was prevalent across the region. The scope of the disaster will take time to assess.

East-Central and North Florida are the focus points today. A core of torrential rain will arc offshore tonight as Ian's center tracks over the ocean. But a blast of onshore wind from a combination of Ian's circulation and a strong high-pressure system to the north is already raising the tide and pushing water into the St. John's River in Jacksonville. The National Hurricane Center is predicting the 3 to 5 feet of water rise in the north end of the river nearest downtown.

This is a repeat of the setup that flooded parts of Jacksonville during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

Ian could intensify back to a hurricane over the warm Gulf Stream waters, but significant intensification isn’t likely. The upper-level winds will be quite hostile.

The same onshore push of water that will start in North Florida will eventually be aimed at the Georgia and South Carolina coast as well. The forecast there is that the ocean will rise 4 to 6 feet above normal high tide. This will flood the numerous low-lying areas along those coasts.

The core of heavy rain is forecast to move over the Carolina coast and north into the mountains, where the high terrain will enhance the rain. Winds near the center of the broad surviving circulation will be at or near tropical-storm strength. Downed trees, power outages, and some flooding are expected through this region as well.

Hazards will be very localized with Ian from now on. Everybody should stay in touch with the specific forecasts for your area.

There are no other threats in the immediate offing, though long-range computer models are telling us that we might have a system to watch in the tropical Atlantic next week. Unfortunately, we still have the often-busy month of October to go.


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