Miami Herald: By Alex Harris – Tropical Storm Ian was strengthening in the eastern Caribbean Saturday morning, on its way to becoming what forecasters say could be a Category 3 hurricane threatening Cuba, then Florida early next week.

Most of Florida remains in the cone, and under a state of emergency declared by Governor Ron DeSantis, as the still-uncertain projected landfall track continues to wiggle east and west.

As of 5am today (Sept 24), the National Hurricane Center called for a landfall sometime Wednesday near Sarasota, reflecting another slight nudge west in the track. No matter where Ian heads, heavy winds and rain could be felt across the state throughout the week.

The hurricane center, and officials in Miami-Dade and Monroe County, urged residents to finish hurricane preparations by Monday evening. The Keys will decide Saturday whether to call for evacuations.

Ian grew more powerful overnight and was packing 45 mph maximum sustained winds by the 5am update. It was about 315 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, which was under a tropical storm watch, and about 600 miles east-southeast of Grand Cayman, which was under a hurricane watch.

Related video: Tropical Storm Ian continues to strengthen in the Caribbean while Florida remains in its path.

Forecasters said the wind shear leftover from Hurricane Fiona and other unfavorable conditions was expected to melt away on Saturday and Sunday, allowing Ian to strengthen further.

On Sunday, Ian is projected to hit a patch of superheated ocean water that powers it into a hurricane. The NHC said it could even rapidly intensify, which is when a storm gains at least 30 mph of sustained winds in a 24-hour period.

It’s currently projected to approach Cuba as a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds, but forecasters warned it could well be a Category 3 at that point.

“Since Ian is not expected to remain over Cuba long, little weakening is expected due to that land interaction, and the forecast again shows Ian as a major hurricane over the eastern Gulf when it is approaching the west coast of Florida,” the 5 a.m. discussion read.

Ian’s approach to Florida’s west coast early next week is not as clear. The hurricane center said Saturday that the spread of potential paths spit out by computer models covered a range of nearly 180 miles.

NHC was also monitoring three other storms and a tropical wave in the central Atlantic with a low chance of formation this week. Tropical Storms Hermine was no threat to land, and Tropical Storm Gaston was pulling away from the Azores Saturday morning. Post-tropical Cyclone Fiona was lashing Nova Scotia and Newfoundland with record-breaking winds.

©2022 Miami Herald. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Top Feature Photo: Tropical Storm Ian’s Track Is Uncertain, But Intensity Forecast Is Clear – Morales © Provided by NBC Miami