After making landfall in western Cuba early Tuesday (Sept. 27), thrashing the island’s power grid and leaving behind a trail of damage, Hurricane Ian is now approaching Florida's west coast and has intensified into a Category 4 storm, forecasters say.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami on Wednesday (Sept. 28) said Ian was about 100 kilometres west-southwest of Naples at 6 a.m. ET, swirling toward the coast.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration has said that speed could slow as the weather system nears landfall in Florida, meaning activity could linger before it passes through.
Warnings of a dangerous storm have been issued along Florida’s Gulf Coast from Bonita Beach to the Tampa Bay area, where high winds reaching 63 km/hr and heavy rain have been intensifying.
The storm, with winds nearing 250 km/h, is "going to do a lot of damage,” said Florida's governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference.
"Knocking on the door of a category five storm"
DeSantis described the storm as a "major hurricane" that has "strengthened and strengthened.”
It is "knocking on the door of a category five storm," he said, adding that bridge closures and 40,000 power cuts had already been reported.
Category four storms have winds between 209 to 251 km/h whereas the fifth level produces winds measuring 252 km/h (157mph) or higher.
Florida’s low elevation, rising sea levels, and large population increase the risk of a catastrophic tidal surge. The Tampa area, for example, checks all of these boxes.
Airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Key West have temporarily closed and so have major Florida theme parks, such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World in Orlando.
Theme park closures
Disney announced Tuesday that Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and the Magic Kingdom would close Wednesday and Thursday after the National Hurricane Center said Ian will likely pass over central Florida, where the theme parks are located.
According to local reports, Disney has been moving guests staying at its exterior resort locations, such as the campground at Fort Wilderness and treehouse villas at Saratoga Springs, to interior rooms at its other hotels.
The company has also cancelled its Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser voyages on Tuesdays and Thursdays due to potential impacts on the experiences.
The company says it will not enforce cancellation policies for in-park experiences such as Savi’s Workshop in Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios or the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Magic Kingdom.
Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park will also be down on Wednesday and Thursday and its Blizzard Beach location is already closed to guests.
“We are monitoring weather conditions so we can make timely decisions for the safety of our cast and guests, including when it’s safe for cast to return to the site to prepare for reopening,” Disney Parks wrote on its Twitter account on Tuesday.
Partially used multi-day theme park tickets with a validity window impacted by closure due to Hurricane Ian will be automatically extended to allow use of the remaining unused ticket days through Sept. 30, 2023, the company said.
In order to enter a park, both a park reservation and valid ticket for the same park on the same date is required.
For Walt Disney World’s latest park and weather updates, click here.
Universal Studios will close its CityWalk on Wednesday and Thursday, with the expectation of reopening Friday, if conditions permit.
Its hotels are at full capacity and will remain operational for guests, the company said.
Universal also cancelled its Halloween Horror Nights events on Wednesday and Thursday as well.
For Universal Orlando Resorts’ latest Hurricane Ian updates, click here.
Given the storm’s trajectory into Tampa Bay, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has also announced closures for Wednesday and Thursday.
"Due to the projected path of Hurricane Ian, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has enacted its Named Storm Policy. ... Precautions are in place following the parks' comprehensive weather preparedness plan to ensure the safety of our animals and ambassadors during this time," the park announced on its website.
"All admission tickets have been extended through December 31," the park said. Also, "annual Pass members' guest tickets with an expiration date of Sept. 30 will be extended through Oct. 16."
LEGOLAND Florida Resort will also be closed Wednesday and Thursday, which impacts LEGOLAND Florida Theme Park, LEGOLAND Water Park and Peppa Pig Theme Park.
"During this time the resort's hotels will remain open to guests with existing reservations. The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority as we monitor the impact of the storm in our area," said the resort in a statement.
Cruises lines cancel, change itineraries
The approaching storm has also forced some cruise lines to change or cancel some itineraries.
Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, has already rerouted a Sunday round-trip cruise from Miami with scheduled stops in George Town, Grand Cayman, Roatán, Honduras, and Harvest Caye, Belize and Cozumel, Mexico, according to reports.
Norwegian Sky, will instead visit San Juan, Puerto Rico, Saint Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, and Nassau in the Bahamas.
MSC Cruises has made changes to MSC Seashore's Saturday sailing from Miami, changing its Western Caribbean itinerary for Eastern Caribbean stops, including the line's private island, Ocean Cay, and Nassau in the Bahamas, and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Also, a New Orleans-based Carnival ship originally scheduled to sail to the Bahamas this week is heading to the Western Caribbean instead.
Carnival Glory, which departed from New Orleans on Sunday on a seven-night voyage to Key West, Florida, and Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas, is now sailing to Belize, Honduras and Mexico.
Because of the expected weather impacts, the Port of Tampa Bay and the Port of Jacksonville (JAXPort) are now closed and, as a result, these two upcoming sailings have been cancelled:
- Carnival Paradise – Four-day cruise from Tampa, Fla. on Thursday, Sept. 29.
- Carnival Elation – Four-day cruise from Jacksonville, Fla. on Thursday, Sept. 29.
Guests will receive a full refund and a 25 per cent Future Cruise Credit, according to a statement posted by Carnival on its website.
Carnival has also adjusted current sailings for its Horizon, Sunrise, Paradise, Elation and Ecstasy ships. Click here to see the latest changes.