On Sept. 14, 2022, the WINK Weather Team started to track a tropical wave leaving Africa with signs of development ahead as it took a long trek across the Atlantic. Nine days later, on Friday, Sept. 23, that system developed into a Tropical Depression, accompanied by the first issuance of a forecast cone. Its track was projected directly toward Southwest Florida as a possible major hurricane the following Wednesday. Later that night Tropical Storm Ian formed, and confirmed the need to take this storm seriously.
While there was a temporary shift of the forecast cone west toward the Panhandle at the beginning of the weekend, by Saturday afternoon and evening, Chief Meteorologist Matt Devitt and his computer models first detected Ian’s potential track heading closer to Southwest Florida. By Sunday, models continued to trend east, solidifying the threat as the storm grew stronger and more organized. At 11 o’clock that night, the National Hurricane Center issued a Storm Surge Watch for Southwest Florida, calling for up to 4 to 7 feet of saltwater flooding for Lee County. Early Monday morning, Sept. 26, Ian strengthened into a hurricane.
One of the most critical parts of Hurricane Ian’s timeline happened at 5 p.m. that day, when all of Southwest Florida’s coastline was upgraded to a Storm Surge Warning—which by definition means that life-threatening storm surge is expected to occur. Ninety minutes before that was even issued, Charlotte County issued its first evacuation orders. Despite the warning, both Lee and Collier counties decided to wait to issue mandatory evacuations.
At 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Ian became a Category 3 Major Hurricane. By 5 a.m., Hurricane Warnings were expanded to include Lee County, but it wasn’t until 7 a.m. that it officially issued its first evacuation orders—more than 15 hours later than neighboring Charlotte County. At 11 a.m., Collier County was put under a Hurricane Watch, which would be upgraded to a Hurricane Warning at 5 p.m. At that time, Collier County issued its first evacuation orders, which came less than 24 hours before Ian made landfall and brought 6 to 11 feet of surge throughout the county.
During all that time, Hurricane Ian continued to rapidly intensify over warm waters and low wind shear, doubling its size and wind speeds. The storm increased from a 45 mph Tropical Storm to a 160 mph Category 5 hurricane in just 63 hours. Ian had now become just the second known Category 5 hurricane offshore of Southwest Florida in recorded history (the other was the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane). Shortly after that peak intensity, the National Hurricane Center issued its final storm surge forecast at 9 a.m. Wednesday, calling for 12 to 18 feet of storm surge in Lee County.
In the days and hours leading up to landfall, the WINK Weather Team was calmly guiding you through it all with updates on-air and online. It also had another incredibly powerful tool available: Southwest Florida’s most powerful radar. WINK Live Doppler 3X, with its million watts of power, was able to analyze the storm with better definition and detail than any other radar in the state. In fact, at one point just before the hurricane made landfall, WINK Live Doppler 3X picked up on winds in the storm up to 160 mph!
Officially, Ian made landfall at 3:05 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, as a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds along the coast of Cayo Costa. Hurricane Ian eventually produced a storm surge of at least 15 feet along Fort Myers Beach—the highest storm surge ever recorded in Southwest Florida—and became the deadliest Florida hurricane since 1935, with nearly 150 people losing their lives. As of March 2023, the storm has been responsible for $113 billion in damages, making it the third-costliest hurricane on record.
Remember that Hurricane Ian will not define our community. We will recover and rebuild back to what we remember and love. The WINK Weather Team was with you before, during and after the storm, and that will never change with any hurricanes that decide to come our way. You can always trust WINK, the Weather Authority.