Hurricane Ian has evolved into a major hurricane as it nears landfall over western Cuba on its way to the southern U.S. state of Florida.
Forecasters at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center say Ian is moving over the Caribbean Sea carrying maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers an hour, making it a Category 3 storm on the center's five-level scale that measures a storm's maximum sustained wind speed and destructive potential.
Ian was last spotted 135 kilometers east of the western tip of Cuba, and 55 kilometers from the city of Pinar Del Rio, traveling at a speed of 20 kilometers an hour. The NHC says the storm will remain a major hurricane as it travels over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.
If the storm continues on its current track, it is expected to reach the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg on Florida's western Gulf Coast as early as Wednesday. The area has not sustained a direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Forecasters have issued hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings and watches for parts of western Cuba and Florida that are in the current path of Hurricane Ian. Hurricane Ian is expected to produce between 15 to 25 centimeters of rainfall in western Cuba, with the Florida Keys expected to receive 10 to 15 centimeters and central west Florida to get between 15 to 30 centimeters of rainfall.
U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts and provide more federal funding. Authorities have issued evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents along Florida's Gulf Coast. The potential devastation from Ian has even prompted officials at the U.S. space agency NASA to roll its massive Artemis 1 moon rocket and space capsule from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center - located on Florida's eastern coast - back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, further delaying its planned test flight.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.