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Tropical Storm Ian will rapidly intensify in the Gulf of Mexico on a path that remains uncertain

National Hurricane Center

Tropical Storm Ian continued to strengthen overnight Saturday and remains on a path to enter the Gulf of Mexico as a potential major hurricane.

And while the National Hurricane Center's forecast track continues to nudge Ian to the west, it warns that the long-term forecast remains largely unpredictable as it enters the Gulf of Mexico with the potential of becoming a powerful Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph by mid-week.

As of Sunday at 5 a.m., Ian was located around 625 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba and moving to the west-northwest at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Maximum sustained winds were 50 mph with higher gusts.

Some areas across the greater Tampa Bay region can begin to see tropical storm-force winds from Ian as early as Tuesday afternoon.

National Hurricane Center

Ian is forecast to turn northwest later Sunday, and into the north-northwest on Monday and to the north on Tuesday.

It will pass through Jamaica on Sunday and near or over western Cuba on Monday night or Tuesday, and into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

Forecasters say Ian will quickly intensify into a hurricane today, and become a major hurricane by late Monday as at approaches Cuba.

In its forecast discussion at 5 a.m., the hurricane center said it's forecast track — while shifting slightly to the west and away from Florida's West Coast — remains a consensus of various models.

"The new track is very similar to the previous advisory," forecasters wrote. "... It cannot be overstated that significant uncertainty remains in Ian's long-range prediction."

Regardless of the track, forecasters say Ian could produce "dangerous storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of the week."
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Carl Lisciandrello is digital news editor of WUSF Public Media.