The damage left behind by the recent hurricane devastates residents of Florida and the Caibbean. / PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR
In the early afternoon of Sept. 28, 2022, a large and powerful Category 4 Hurricane Ian slammed into Fort Myers, Florida, with winds up to 155 mph. Before impacting Florida, Ian created a path of destruction throughout the Caribbean. From heavy rainfall to dangerous surf, the storm hit Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Cuba. When Ian beelined for western Florida, it carried the potential for historically heavy winds, rainfall, and catastrophic storm surge.
Following its path through Cuba and the Caribbean, Ian created a track similar to 2004’s Hurricane Charley. Not only was it a storm for the record books for its strength, but also its unpredictability throughout the hurricane’s lifetime.
Before landfall, Hurricane Ian was forecasted to make landfall around the Tampa, Florida, area, which has not experienced a direct landfall in a century. It concerned residents and officials due to the metro’s vulnerable, low-lying landscape and the population throughout the Tampa area, primarily the elderly.
Since the entire region – from Hillsborough to Pinellas Counties – is connected by bridges and causeways, Hurricane Ian was considered a worst-case scenario regarding effects, especially with the forecasted high storm surge.
Residents, such as Kiefer Woods, who chose to ride out the storm, had to provide identification of their residence on the barrier islands due to safety concerns.
At one point during its lifetime, Hurricane Ian underwent rapid intensification.
Dr. Sepi Yalda, Professor of Meteorology at Millersville University, describes it as “an increase in the maximum sustained winds of a tropical cyclone of at least 30 knots in a 24-hour period, meaning that the storm’s intensity is increasing in a short period of time.”
The warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Ian enabled the storm to rapidly intensify from Category 1 to an intense and violent Category 4.
As Hurricane Ian neared western Florida, meteorologists and the general public alike made comparisons of Ian to preceding historic storms, such as Hurricane Charley. Despite their size difference, both hurricanes had the same wind speeds at the time of their landfalls and the landfall location. Regardless of its size, Ian entered the record books.
“When looking just at Florida, Ian enters a 3-way tie for the fourth strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the state by maximum sustained winds, surpassed in order by the Labor Day Hurricane, 1992′s Hurricane Andrew and 2018′s Hurricane Michael,” said Yalda.
These hurricanes topped at 185 mph, 165 mph, and 160 mph, respectively.
Technology and social media also played a role during the event. Twitter was a significant factor, especially from first-hand perspectives of the storm. One viral tweet was about a Hurricane Hunter plane that barely made it through Ian due to the storm’s turbulence. A Hurricane Hunter recounted that, throughout their career, they have never seen as much lightning inside of a hurricane as Ian. Meanwhile, on the ground in Fort Myers, a viral video showed a camera six feet above ground submerged by storm surge over time.
Hurricane Ian was one of the strongest storms to ever hit Florida in its history and one of the most expensive. Considered a billion-dollar disaster, Ian damaged the Sanibel Causeway, separating Sanibel Island from the mainland. Fortunately, with the help of numerous states, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and volunteers from organizations such as the American Red Cross, the causeway is temporarily fixed and resembles resiliency following disasters.
Hurricane Ian was notorious in many ways. From its sheer power to immense damage, the storm is one for the record books and eventually retired from the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane name list. The hurricane also taught emergency managers, officials, and the general public some lessons.
While the hurricane’s forecast was more accurate than years ago, it still needs improvement, especially concerning communications. Nonetheless, it provided ample time for emergency services from FEMA to those associated with the state and local emergency services to be in place and ready for response and recovery in addition to other organizations that assisted during this period.
The important lesson is to continue the collaboration and communication between disseminating the forecast with decision makers and timely response to evacuations. Following evacuation orders and other safety precautions are extremely important for individuals to understand.
Not only would Hurricane Ian be talked about for years to come, but it also serves as a wake-up call to continuously improve forecasting, response, and recovery following hurricanes and other natural disasters.