September 24, 2022

Tropical Storm Ian Could Hit Category Four Intensity In The Gulf This Week

It only takes one. 

The slow start to this year's Atlantic hurricane season may not be what we remember about this season after all. We're staring down the prospect of tracking our second major hurricane in a week, and this one could be a doozy for the Gulf states.

Tropical Storm Ian is a fledgling storm in the southern Caribbean Sea tonight. The system is still pretty weak, packing maximum winds of only 45 mph. However, the system is gradually getting better organized on satellite imagery—it certainly has "that look" to it—and it's moving into an environment favorable for strengthening.

Ian is about to move over the warmest water in the entire Atlantic Ocean. Here's a look at ocean heat content, which goes beyond sea surface temperatures to show the pool of warm water a developing tropical system can tap into:


These waters have been relatively untouched by tropical systems this year, giving Ian first dibs on tapping into an entire summer's worth of hot sunshine beating down on these tropical waters.

The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center calls for Ian to undergo rapid intensification through Tuesday, growing into a category four storm as it passes the tip of Cuba.

There's still plenty of uncertainty in the forecast. Rapid intensification is tough to forecast; it can catch us off guard as easily as a hiccup in the storm's structure can prevent that sudden jump in intensity.

There's also greater-than-normal uncertainty with Ian's future track. Model guidance has slowly ticked the storm's track farther and farther west with each update, which puts more of the northern Gulf Coast in line for the storm.

It's still too early to tell where it'll make landfall, but anyone from Gulfport to Fort Meyers needs to have a plan in place to deal with a strong hurricane in the Gulf by the middle of next week.

Regardless of its precise track, a hurricane entering the Gulf will have far-reaching consequences that extend far beyond the coast. The latest rainfall forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows a widespread swath of very heavy rain falling over much of the southeastern states over the next week. We could also see a risk for tornadoes with the storm's remnants when/if they push inland.

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.