Ian, now a major Category 3 hurricane, is growing stronger in the Gulf of Mexico – NBC News

Hurricane Ian became a major Category 3 storm early Tuesday and will continue to strengthen as it approaches Florida, National Hurricane Center forecasters say.

Ian made landfall about 4:30 a.m. ET Tuesday in western Cuba just southwest of the town of La Coloma in the Pinar del Río province, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, U.S. officials said.

The hurricane, now in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, is moving north toward Florida at 10 mph and growing stronger, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update.

The latest on Hurricane Ian

  • Hurricane Ian made landfall in western Cuba as a major hurricane early Tuesday, leaving 1 million people without electricity.
  • Ian will likely continue to grow stronger as it travels over the warm Gulf of Mexicoreach top winds of 130 mph as it approaches the southwest coast of Florida.
  • Tropical storm-force winds are expected across Florida’s southern peninsula late Tuesday, reaching hurricane-force Wednesday — when the hurricane’s eye is predicted to make landfall.
  • About 2.5 million residents are under some type of evacuation order in Florida.
  • Ian will slow to 3 to 4 mph Thursday and Friday over or near Florida’s west coast, prolonging storm surge, wind and flash flooding impacts.
  • Georgia’s governor has declared a state of emergency..

The center of Ian could strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane as it continues to move over the Gulf, NBC News forecasters said.

Ian will continue to intensify today through Wednesday as it approaches the west coast of Florida on Wednesday “as an extremely dangerous major hurricane,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

Models show the storm landing somewhere between Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. The system is forecast to slow down as low as 3 to 4 mph, prolonging the impacts of heavy rain, strong wind and storm surge.

Follow along for NBC News’ live coverage of Hurricane Ian

Tornadoes over the Florida peninsula are also possible over the next three days.

Storm surge can also affect Florida’s east coast where a warning has been issued from Marineland to St. Marys River, along Georgia’s coast, according to the hurricane center.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a statewide emergency, saying Ian could bring several feet of storm surge. Charlotte Harbor may see 12 feet of storm surge, and in the Tampa Bay area, 7 feet is expected, according to forecasters.

“What we have here is really historic storm surge and flooding potential,” he said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “That storm surge can be life-threatening.”

DeSantis encouraged residents to heed evacuation orders in place from Pinellas County to the Fort Myers area. About 2.5 million residents are under some type of evacuation orders, he said.

Parts of the state may also be without power anywhere from three days to a week, according to Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, who spoke at the news conference.

Image: Hurricane Ian prep
Boarded-up windows in Indian Shores, 25 miles west of Tampa, had a message for Hurricane Ian on Monday.Ricardo Arduengo / AFP – Getty Images

Georgia and South Carolina may also see some impact from Ian.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency for all counties Tuesday that will go into effect 7 a.m. Thursday and expire midnight Friday.

As the storm headed for Florida, oil companies evacuated workers from deep-water platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and airports in Tampa, Orlando and Pinellas County in Florida announced that they would close Tuesday and Wednesday. American Airlines announced travel waivers for people flying to or out of 20 airports in Florida and the Caribbean.

Residents on Florida’s Gulf Coast stocked up on food and prepared with sandbags and plywood for their windows. Hundreds of thousands of people were under evacuation orders.

Image: Bob Copeland, Wilbur Villamarin, Fabian Villamarin
Bob Copeland helps fill free sandbags for Wilbur Villamarin, left, and his son Fabian on Monday at an Orange County park in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Ian.Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

“This storm is trending to slow down, which means it could potentially sit on top of us for 47 hours,” said Cathie Perkins, the director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa reported.

“That’s a lot of rain, and it’s not going to be able to drain out quickly,” she said.

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