Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida as near-Category 5 storm

Hurricane Ian has made landfall as a near-Category 5 storm, roaring ashore in southwestern Florida.

The storm intensified into on Wednesday morning as millions of Florida residents were told to evacuate in anticipation of storm surges, flash flooding and hurricane-force winds.

The hurricane has already brought severe rain, winds, storm surges and flooding to the Florida Gulf Coast. The impact is only expected to grow in the coming hours as the strongest part of the storm hits land and moves slowly across the state.

The storm made landfall near Cayo Costa, a barrier island between Port Charlotte and Cape Coral, Florida at 3:05 PM local time, according to the National Hurricane Centre (NHC).

Some of the worst damage from the storm is expected in that part of the Gulf Coast.

The hurricane had sustained wind speeds of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometres per hour) at landfall, NHC said. A Category 5 storm has wind speeds greater than or equal to 156 mph (251), putting Ian just on the cusp of the highest possible ranking for a tropical cyclone.

Ian’s centre is now forecast to sweep northwest across Florida, reaching the Atlantic coast overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, and up into Georgia and South Carolina by the end of the week. While the worst damage will be on the Gulf, cities further inland and north like Orlando have also been preparing for extreme winds and rain.

Residents in low-lying areas had been urged to evacuate ahead of the storm, as up to 18 feet (5.5 metres) of storm surge is expected in some locations – pushing the oceans well above normal levels and causing potentially “catastrophic” destruction, according to NHC.

By 3:30 PM local time, storm surge in Naples, Florida had reached above six ft (1.8 m). Storm surge in Fort Myers had reached over four ft (1.2 m).

In addition, more than 15 inches (38 centimetres) of rain in some locations will create extremely dangerous and destructive conditions over the next day.

Ian is the second hurricane to batter the US this year after Hurricane Fiona swept through Puerto Rico and caused widespread damage and power outages.

Only four Category 5 storms have ever hit the US still at Category 5 strength. The most recent two were Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992, both of which also hit Florida.

Other storms, like Hurricane Maria in 2017 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had been Category 5 storms but weakened before they reached land in the US.

Strong hurricanes are only likely to become more common as the planet heats up. The number of hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons has not changed globally, but scientists have found that the climate crisis has increased the intensity of these types of storms.

Extreme rainfall associated with the storms has increased susbtantially, for example, and storm surges are higher due to sea-level rises.

This is a breaking story, more to follow

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