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Ian heads out to sea; Jacksonville's outlook improves

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David Luckin
/
Florida Times-Union

After ravaging Southwest Florida, Hurricane Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm overnight as it moved toward Northeast Florida with a threat of catastrophic flooding.

The center of Ian emerged into the western Atlantic on Thursday morning north of Cape Canaveral. Tropical storm winds were expected to spread across Northeast Florida, Georgia and the Carolina coasts through Friday.

Winds were registered Thursday evening at about 75 mph, putting Ian back over hurricane status, the National Hurricane Center said in a 5 p.m. update..

The storm moved back over water faster than expected, and the hurricane center shifted the forecast track east, away from the Florida Coast.

The shift brought lower rainfall predictions in Northeast Florida, although the coast remains under a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning.

One to 4 inches of rain were forecast in Jacksonville, significantly less than the 15 inches predicted earlier in the week. By 5 p.m., rain estimates had diminished again.

A storm surge warning also was issued along the coast and the St. Johns River, with a peak surge of 4 to 6 feet on the coast and 2 to 4 feet on the river — down slightly from early Thursday.

Still, "ongoing major-to-record river flooding will continue across portions of Central Florida, with considerable flooding in northern Florida. Considerable flash and urban flooding is expected across coastal portions of Northeast Florida through Friday," the hurricane center said.

The city of Jacksonville advised that Ian would be directly off the coasts around 10 p.m. Thursday. Tidal and coastal flooding remained a high concern, the city said.

Significant flooding was inundating St. Augustine and other parts of St. Johns County on Thursday afternoon. Flooding in Jacksonville could continue over the next few days due to rainfall dumped into the St. Johns River in Central Florida.

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National Hurricane Center

Ian is expected to turn north overnight and north-northwestward on Saturday, strengthening as it moves toward South Carolina. A hurricane warning has been issued for the entire South Carolina coast.

Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a strong Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph in southwest Florida. After bringing a double-digit storm surge to areas along the Lee Island Coast, Hurricane Ian prompted flash flood emergencies from Sebring to Port Charlotte. As Hurricane Ian shifted north-northeast early Thursday morning, training of heavy rainfall in rain bands brought flash flooding to the Orlando area.

At the peak of the flooding in Central Florida, five flash flood warnings were in effect. Flash flooding in Florida is a rare event, as soils across the state are generally well-equipped to handle heavy rainfall rates. Doppler radar estimates in these areas indicate as much as a foot of rain has fallen in these areas, with an additional 4 inches of rain possible before Ian finally pushes offshore.

While Ian is expected to push offshore by early Thursday afternoon, winds will continue to be a problem. Tropical-storm-force winds are expected to continue at times, especially across the Interstate 4 corridor and along the First Coast through the day.

Jacksonville still has no plans for mandatory evacuations as the storm approaches, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't leave.

In a news conference at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor Lenny Curry urged people in evacuation zones A and B to head for higher ground, and he stressed that people should evacuate if they experienced severe flooding in Hurricane Matthew in 2016 or Hurricane Irma in 2017. You can check your flood zone here or on the JaxReady mobile app.

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Randy Roguski
/
National Hurricane Center

The immense Ian could produce catastrophic flooding and storm surge, Curry said. Most at risk are the waterfront parts of Riverside, San Marco, Hogan’s Creek, Southampton, Ortega, Venetia, the Beaches and Downtown.

Jacksonville will start to see more severe weather around 8 a.m. Thursday and worse conditions by afternoon. People should stay off the roads and out of the ocean, Curry said. He closed the beaches to the public on Wednesday night.

All bridges are open at this point. The Florida Department of Transportation works with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol to monitor wind conditions at area bridges. If winds exceed specified levels, FDOT will work with law enforcement to close affected bridges. Any bridge closures will be communicated via local media channels, social media, the city website (www.COJ.net) and the JaxReady mobile app.

Starting at 5 p.m Wednesday, these emergency shelters are open:

  • Legends Center, 5130 Soutel Drive, open for general population and special needs.
  • Landmark Middle School, 101 Kernan Blvd., open for general population and pet friendly.
  • Atlantic Coast High School, 8735 R. G. Skinner Parkway, open for general population, special needs and pet friendly.
  • LaVilla Middle School, 501 N. Davis St., open specifically for homeless individuals.

For more information, call 630-CITY (2489).

Information from Storm Center was used in this report.

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at rroguski@wjct.org or on Twitter, @rroguski.