THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED
Schools closed across Miami-Dade County as a strengthening Hurricane Ian left Cuba’s coast and took aim at Florida’s west coast Tuesday. Key Biscayne Manager Steve Williamson declared a formal state of emergency and non-essential government employees were sent home. The island was placed under a Tropical Storm warning at 5 p.m.
Hurricane Hunter aircraft put Ian’s sustained winds at 120 miles-per-hour, but the storm is expected to grow even stronger as it dumps prodigious amounts of water into the island’s already overloaded drainage systems.
The official forecast calls for a 69% chance of tropical storm force winds and rain totals of four to eight inches. The storm makes embedded tornadoes more likely and news stations reported two tornado strikes in Broward County.
On Virginia Key, a 41 mile-per-hour gust was recorded Tuesday night at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School.
The local declaration of emergency came as village offices were closed Tuesday. In an email, Williamson said he was taking the measure “to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents.” The declaration grants additional administrative powers and eases procurement rules.
Village Hall will be closed Wednesday and the following remain suspended:
- Recycling pickup has been canceled for Wednesday. Thursday’s pickup has not been decided.
- The Community Center remains closed until further notice.
- Freebee has been suspended until further notice
- Curative testing site are closed until further notice.
Miami-Dade Schools officials canceled classes for Wednesday and Thursday, and most private schools in Key Biscayne followed suit. St. Agnes Academy, however, only announced a closure for Wednesday and would make a decision about Thursday sessions later, a church official said.
At 11 p.m, forecasters put the center of Ian about 110 miles southwest of Naples, Fla. heading north-northeast at a slower pace than before, just 10 miles-per-hour. The slower movement was accompanied by a shift in the forecast track to the south and east over the past day, raising the impacts for South Florida.
As expected, the village’s antiquated drainage system struggled to keep streets clear as the outer bands of Ian moved across the island. A rain gauge at the Rosenstiel School recorded nearly five inches of rain since the start of the storm. Residents snapped pictures of submerged streets and overflowing ponds.
“I think we will be on par for a lot of rain,” said RSMAS meteorologist Brian McNoldy, who said said Key Biscyane could expect to get low-end tropical storm force winds. “It’s enough to take out tree limbs and electricity.”
For Florida’s west coast, a shift in track to the south could benefit Tampa from feeling the full onslaught of potentially catastrophic storm surge in Tampa Bay. Even a small change in direction would be highly significant.
“That would make a world of difference for them,” McNoldy said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.