Hurricane Ian intensifies as impact expected today; Airports and theme parks closed, cruises canceled

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new information.


Forecasters upgraded Hurricane Ian to a Category 4 storm Wednesday morning, with sustained winds expected to reach 155 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center announced as of 8 a.m. That’s just below a Category 5 hurricane.

“The storm is here. It’s imminent,” Florida Division of Emergency Management director Kevin Guthrie said in an early morning briefing. He suggested that state officials “prepare and expect a Cat 5”.

In a briefing this morning, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis said the storm is expected to make landfall in Charlotte County, Florida, calling it “life-threatening.” The governor also said evacuation was no longer safe and residents should “crouch down” and seek shelter. Charlotte County is north of Fort Myers.

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Florida emergency officials have urged people across the state to be on the alert, and DeSantis is urging residents to search this site for advice.

As you can imagine, this is already having a serious impact on travel. According to Flight Aware, nearly 2,000 flights to or within the United States have already been canceled today, including 17% of American Airlines flights.

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Tampa International Airport (TPA) ceased operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

As of Wednesday morning, TPA and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) are both closed while Orlando International Airport (MCO) is also closing this morning. Theme parks in the area, including Disney World, have also announced storm-related closures.

ORLANDO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

While the National Hurricane Center warned of a severe storm surge along Florida’s Gulf Coast, flooding is also expected in central Florida from the heavy rain, weather forecasters warned.

Airlines issued travel warnings ahead of the storm and expanded them, allowing even those with normally unchangeable tickets to change their travel routes to avoid or leave unsafe areas.

Over the weekend, ahead of the storm, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Florida, with emergency management officials urging residents to begin preparations.

Related: Florida airports announce hurricane-related closures

Flights are disrupted by Hurricane Ian

In addition to the announced airport closures, other flights in and out of the region may also be affected.

Most major US airlines that fly to Florida — including the country’s four largest, American, Delta, Southwest and United — have issued travel advisories for destinations most likely to be affected by Ian. The alerts include Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and airports across Florida.

The three legacy US airlines already have as a general guideline Waiver of rebooking fees on domestic flights and flights originating in the US and in many cases the Caribbean – with the exception of Basic Economy tickets. However, during a travel alert, even those with basic economy tickets can change their itinerary if their travel plans fall under the alert.

Other airlines that serve Florida – including Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant – also issued waivers.

Be sure to check the specific terms of the airline notification so you know your deadline to change and when to start your journey.

“All of these airports are subject to flight delays due to these weather conditions,” Federal Aviation Administration’s Chris Citrola said of Ian’s impact on Florida flight operations in a video posted to social media Monday.

“We will be constantly monitoring this very closely to ensure we are doing our best to keep everyone safe and away from these airports when this impact occurs,” added Citrola.

The FAA encourages those planning air travel in the coming days to stay in close contact with their airline. Because of this, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with your airline’s app.

Delta warned that Florida weather conditions could disrupt air traffic from the Northeast; Of course, there are many flights between Florida and major Northeast destinations like New York and Boston, and flight disruptions in Florida can easily spill over into other parts of the US

Allegiant has bases in Sarasota and St. Petersburg, Fla., and could see more disruption in the coming days.

Air, sea and space logistics affected

As residents and visitors in the western Caribbean and Florida prepare for the impact of Ian, the approaching inclement weather is disrupting a variety of Florida air, sea and space operations.

While initial projections seem to indicate that the storm will have a rather large impact on Florida’s Gulf Coast, NASA announced over the weekend that it would not proceed with its next launch attempt for Artemis I twice scrubbed unmanned mission to the moon.

NASA’s Artemis I rocket stands on the Kennedy Space Center launch pad on Saturday. SOPA PICTURES/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY PICTURES

After mechanical problems marred a launch attempt over Labor Day weekend, NASA eyed a possible September 27 launch. It is unclear when the next launch attempt can take place.

At TPA, the cessation of operations is designed to allow staff to prepare the airfield and terminals, as well as secure passenger boarding bridges, ground equipment and any remaining aircraft still on the ground, according to airport officials. Terminals and car parks will be closed.

Already preparing for what impact Ian could have, airport officials said post-storm damage assessments will begin as soon as it is safe, noting they are working with partners to reopen the airport “based on road safety, facility readiness and staffing.” will coordinate.

Meanwhile, MCO will cease operations at 10:30 today.

In addition, the airport is holding back some planned changes triggered by the opening of its new Terminal C, airport officials announced. The airport is postponing the move of JetBlue and Caribbean Airlines to the new terminal due to uncertainty about what operations might look like over the next few days.

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is also closed and will remain so until the Pinellas County evacuation order is lifted.

Cruise Line Issues

Cruise lines began canceling and delaying near departures of ships from central Florida ports on Tuesday as Ian invaded the region.

Norwegian Cruise Line became the first major cruise line to announce the cancellation of an entire voyage, and announced late in the day that it had canceled Thursday’s departure of the 3,963-passenger Norwegian Getaway from Port Canaveral. Soon after, Carnival Cruise Line canceled Thursday departures from Tampa and Jacksonville on the 2,502-passenger Carnival Paradise and 2,502-passenger Carnival Elation, respectively.

In addition, Disney Cruise Line has advised passengers on the Disney Wish, which has 2,508 passengers, that the ship’s return to Port Canaveral on Friday may be delayed. If the return of the ship is delayed, the subsequent departure of the ship may also be delayed. The cancellations and delays came as cruise ports in Tampa, Port Canaveral and Jacksonville began closing due to Ian’s approach.

At 8:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Port Tampa Bay was closed to all maritime traffic, including cruise ships, in anticipation that gale force winds (34-47 knots) from Hurricane Ian would soon arrive.

The ports of Port Canaveral and Jacksonville are expected to be closed to maritime traffic through Wednesday for the same reason. The closures could cause further delays and disruptions to cruise departures in the coming days. A dozen cruise ships, including some of the largest in the world, call at the three ports.

Rexcited: The latest on cruise ship cancellations and delays

closure of amusement parks

If you are planning to visit (or are already there) any of the theme parks in Central Florida this week, be sure to familiarize yourself with the park’s hurricane policy.

Most parks will waive change or cancellation fees if a hurricane or tropical storm warning is issued for the area (or where you live), but each park handles things a little differently.

The following theme parks have announced closures as they are in the projected path of Hurricane Ian:

  • Disney World closes on Wednesday September 28th and Thursday September 29th.
  • Universal Orlando, including CityWalk, is closing Wednesday, September 28th and Thursday, September 29th.
  • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will be closed Tuesday, September 27th through Thursday, September 28th.
  • Aquatica Orlando and Discovery Cove will be closed on Wednesday, September 28th and Thursday, September 29th.
  • SeaWorld Orlando Orlando is closing on Wednesday, September 28th and Thursday, September 29th.
  • Peppa Pig Theme Park closes on Wednesday 28th September and Thursday 29th September.
  • Legoland Florida is closing Wednesday September 28th and Thursday September 29th.
Guests walking in the rain at Disney World. GREGG NEWTON/AFP/GETTY PICTURES

Related: Here’s what happens when a hurricane hits Disney World

Cancellation of a trip and travel insurance

A palm tree sways in the wind in Bermuda this month as Hurricane Fiona approached. SEBASTIEN VUAGNAT/AFP/GETTY PICTURES

If you’re considering traveling to a destination that could potentially be affected in the coming days, you need to consider important issues such as: TPG discussed with a meteorologist as Hurricane Fiona strengthened:

  • If you are currently in a destination that may be impacted by the storm system, what type of backup travel arrangements may you need if you plan to depart earlier than planned?
  • If you are planning a trip to the potentially affected region in the coming days, do you have travel insurance that you took out before the storm was named, and what are the terms? How long do you have to decide whether to cancel? (Once a storm is named, it’s generally too late to get a policy that will cover your costs.)

Answering these questions in order to plan ahead can be vital to both your safety while traveling and protecting the investment you have made in a trip.

bottom line

Hurricane Ian is already disrupting travel, but the impact is expected to increase in the coming days as it intensifies and nears landfall. This will be a catastrophic storm and the effects will likely be felt for weeks or even months.

As residents and everyone across the state prepares for the impact, now is the time to look ahead, whether you’re planning to travel to an area that may be impacted or your travel to an area that is standing in the way, want to prematurely end the storm.

Additional reporting from Clint Henderson, Caroline Tanner, Tarah Chieffi and Summer Hull.

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