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Tropical Storm Ian forms in the Caribbean and is on a track toward Florida as a major hurricane

National Hurricane Center

As expected, Tropical Storm Ian formed late Friday night in the Caribbean and is on a path toward Cuba and — eventually — the Gulf of Mexico and Florida as a potential major hurricane.

As of early Saturday morning, Ian was located about 315 miles southeast of Jamaica and moving to the west at 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Maximum sustained winds have grown to 45 mph with higher gusts, and Ian is projected to turn to the west-northwest through Sunday, then turn to the northwest late Sunday and shift to the north-northwest by late Monday.

That path would take Ian past Jamaica on Saturday, then near the Cayman Islands on Sunday night, and approaching western Cuba on Monday.

The forecast track from the hurricane center early Saturday continued to have Ian entering the Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane on Tuesday, with nearly the entire state within the cone of uncertainty.

It is forecast to become a hurricane by Sunday night or Monday morning, and conditions are favorable for Ian to intensify into a Category 3 hurricane by Wednesday morning.

While virtually all of Florida is within the forecast cone, meteorologists say the long-term track remains largely unpredictable.

"There is a large amount of cross-track spread at 72 hours and beyond," according to the hurricane center's forecast discussion early Saturday morning. "In fact, the east-west spread in the guidance at 96 hours is about 180 nautical miles."

"Given the spread in the guidance, and the still shifting dynamical models, additional adjustments to the track forecast may be needed in subsequent advisories. Users are reminded that the long-term average NHC 4- and 5-day track errors are around 150 and 200 nautical miles, respectively."

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for 24 counties — including much of the greater Tampa Bay region — and requested a federal pre-landfall emergency declaration ahead of the storm, according to a news release.

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Carl Lisciandrello