UPDATE WEDNESDAY —
As Hurricane Ian makes landfall as a category 4 storm just south of Tampa, continued eastward movement makes impacts in Gulf County increasingly unlikely.
UPDATE TUESDAY 11 A.M.—
Gulf District Schools announced that they would be closed Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of inclement weather associated with Hurricane Ian.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm has shifted slightly more to the east.
ORIGINAL REPORT —
Gulf County officials have been keeping their eyes on Hurricane Ian, the first major hurricane to impact the United States this year.
And although it has become increasingly unlikely that Northwest Florida will receive direct impacts from the storm when it makes landfall Thursday, local residents are urged to remain storm-ready
“It’s continued to move east, and we can hope for us that it continues to do that,” said Gulf County Emergency Management Director Matt Herring on Monday evening. “But we’ve waited long enough now… and it’s best to do what we can to be prepared.”
Gulf County commissioners issued a local state of emergency for Hurricane Ian on Monday, a standard precaution allowing the county to seek assistance for any damages that result from the storm.
While they did not issue any mandatory evacuations, County Administrator Michael Hammond did recommend that those with RVs at one of the two RV parks along Indian Pass relocate the vehicles ahead of the storm to avoid flooding.
“I think we still need to wait and see. I see no need to do any evacuations,” said Hammond. “ I do think it’s prudent that if you’re in the RV park at the end of Indian Pass or the RV park across from the Indian Pass Raw Bar that you do move, based on just historical knowledge.”
Hammond did say that county crews had been working to clear out roadside ditches in anticipation of heavy rainfall.
The storm, which began off the northern coast of South America last week, strengthened into a cyclone over the weekend, slowly making its way westward before turning north towards Cuba, where it hit with force Monday night.
As of Tuesday morning, the storm was expected to make landfall as a major hurricane along the Florida peninsula’s western coast, near Tampa, sparing Northwest Florida the worst impacts.
Heavy rain and wind were forecast for panhandle communities on Thursday and Friday, and coastal communities in Franklin and Gulf Counties were expected to receive storm surges that could reach three feet.
A tropical storm watch was issued for coastal Franklin county, which as of Tuesday morning had about a 30% chance of seeing tropical storm conditions. That likelihood decreased in counties further west.
However, forecasters were careful to point out that any westward shift in the storm could increase these impacts significantly, and locals were encouraged to continue to monitor forecasts and prepare for a storm.
“As it gets closer, we will better be able to determine what effects the storm is going to have,” said Hammond.
The county administrator continued to say that as of Monday, the majority of the storm’s effects in Gulf County were expected to be related to the storm surge, which could result in road closures and flooding in coastal areas and significant damage to already heavily eroded beaches along Cape San Blas.
Hurricane Ian was met with a higher than normal degree of uncertainty by forecasters, who struggled to pinpoint the storm’s path and intensity due to conflicting models from the European and American models for the storm.
Though the storm’s likely path has veered to the east in the days leading up to it’s Florida landfall, it was not out of the question Tuesday morning that there could be a change in the storm’s path.
Florida Governor Ron Desantis declared a state of emergency for all 67 of the state’s counties on Sunday, ensuring that resources could be mobilized across the state as needed.
Many local events were canceled or postponed in anticipation of inclement weather, including the Port St. Joe Buffer Preserve’s Fall Bay Day celebration and Wewahitchka’s Fall Festival.
This report will be updated as more information becomes available.