Hurricane Ian is losing pace as it advances across the land over Florida, but its slow progress may add to another threat the state will face in the coming days: catastrophic flooding in locations far from the coasts.
Meteorologists have warned that the hurricane’s slowing speed means it is pouring more rain along its route, producing unprecedented flooding in the state’s western and southern regions. Rivers, streams, and creeks inland will be flooded, but they will be unable to discharge into the sea due to the storm surge that has inundated coastal communities, they warned.
“This has been such a huge region of severe rainfall,” said Ross Giarratana of the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay Area office. “That affects a lot of river basins and creates a lot of excess runoff that needs to move through the river system, but it can’t because the rivers are overflowing.”.
Mr. Giarratana predicted that floods would affect large portions of the state for several days, if not a week. The flat landscape of Florida will also help the rivers drain more slowly, he says.
Officials in charge of emergencies and weather warned people not to let their guard down even after the storm was over. They said that flooding is a life-threatening threat in a large part of the state.
“It’s 24 hours of rain, 24 hours of wind driving the water,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said during a press conference Wednesday. “We need to talk about water.”. Water is responsible for 90% of all fatalities in these tropical systems.”.
Flooding had already reached record or near-record levels in sections of southwestern Florida by early Thursday. By 4:30 a.m., Horse Creek near Arcadia had swollen to 21.22 feet, breaking the previous record of 18 feet. The Peace River at Zolfo Springs had risen to 25.36 feet, breaking the previous record of 25 feet.
Meteorologist Melissa Watson from the National Weather Service in Melbourne says that the most rain is likely to fall along Interstate 4, which runs the length of the state. In some places, 12 to 20 inches of rain are expected, and in others, up to 30 inches.
The storm is forecast to pass off the east coast of Florida by Thursday afternoon. Forecasters say that northeast Florida, southeast Georgia, and eastern South Carolina will still be at risk of severe flooding over the weekend.
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