Hurricane Ian Strengthens & Shifts Towards Disney World

Hurricane Ian formed Monday morning and its path shifted to the east with much of Central Florida within the cone of uncertainty and the first hurricane watches issued for Florida. In this, we’ll update you on the storm’s status, when it’ll likely be felt in Orlando, Walt Disney World’s policies, what to do, and more. (Updated September 26, 2022 at 8:30 pm EST.)

Note that Walt Disney World Has Announced Closures, Cancellations & Operational Impacts Due to Hurricane Ian. That post covers what’s closing and changing at the resorts, water parks, restaurants, and beyond. Thus far, the 4 theme parks are operating normally, but Disney has advised that it’s monitoring the weather and will prioritize guest and Cast Member safety above all else.

As for Hurricane Ian itself, we’ve been tracking Ian in its progression from Tropical Depression Nine to Tropical Storm Ian in our Tips for Hurricane & Storm Season at Walt Disney World post. However, that’s meant to be generalized tips, WDW policy, and historical info about closures.

Hurricane Ian is obviously different than an average storm, and should be taken more seriously. Now that it’s officially Hurricane Ian and likely to become a major Category 3 storm with spaghetti models forecasting a significant impact to the entire state, we wanted to break this out and offer more thorough updates on hurricane.

Florida Govenor Ron DeSantis held a press conference on Monday from the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. During that, he indicated that 5,000 National Guardsmen from Florida plus several thousand more from neighboring states have been activated, along with search and rescue teams.

DeSantis warned of the consequences of a hurricane of this magnitude, indicating that Floridians need to make preparations and a plan now. He urged Floridians to have seven days worth of supplies and to stay tuned to local media for the latest forecast updates, but not “panic buy.” He also warned of power losses, but said there tens of thousands of worker standing by at the major utility companies, preparing to restore power in the days after Hurricane Ian passes.

Governor DeSantis said that Florida is fully prepared for this and any future storm with the state operations center at complete readiness. He reiterated that the situation remains fluid and could change quickly, further stating that Floridians need to remain vigilant and heed the warnings of local officials.

“Floridians up and down the Gulf Coast should feel the impacts of this as up to 36 hours before the actual landfall due to the size of the hurricane,” DeSantis said. “This is a really, really big hurricane…it’s about 500 miles wide. Look at the cone and where [the National Hurricane Center] has the landfall going…the impacts are going to be much much broader than that.”

Turning to the National Hurricane Center’s 8 pm update, Hurricane Ian’s center is 130 miles southeast of the western tip of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane, moving north-northwest at 13 mph. Its hurricane-force winds extend out 35 miles with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 115 miles.

Hurricane Ian strengthened into a Category 2 system Monday afternoon with its path continuing to target Florida’s Gulf Coast. Central Florida is now under a tropical storm watch, while hurricane warnings were issued along the coast including the potential for 10-foot storm surge in Tampa Bay. The National Hurricane Center director is calling Hurricane Ian’s current forecast a “near worst-case scenario” for the Tampa area.

In its latest update, the National Hurricane Center stated that satellite imagery shows that Hurricane Ian has quickly become better organized overnight. Banding has increased in all quadrants of the storm, and the eye has become much better defined in radar data from Grand Cayman.

Hurricane Ian will be traversing the warm waters of the Caribbean today. These very conducive environmental factors along with the improved structure of the storm are likely to result in “rapid intensification” overnight, according to the NHC. Ian is forecast to become a major hurricane tonight.

Additional strengthening is likely over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. As it approaches Florida, Hurricane Ian is likely weaken slightly but have an expanding wind field and will be slowing down by that time, which will have the potential to produce significant wind and storm surge impacts along the west coast of Florida.

When it comes to the spaghetti models, there is still significant spread after 48 hours about whether Hurricane Ian will make landfall in the center of the state or nearer the panhandle of Florida. The UKMET and ECWMF are still on the eastern side of the guidance and
show a track very near or over the west-central coast of Florida. By contrast, the GFS, HWRF, and HMON, and GFS ensemble mean are on the western side.

The NHC track forecast remains close to the TVCA multi-model consensus aid, and is very similar to the previous official forecast, which started shifting towards Central Florida yesterday. the 3-day cone of uncertainty’s eastern shift places more inland areas including all of metro Orlando including Walt Disney World within the cone.

With all of that said, the National Hurricane Center stresses again that there is still “significant uncertainty” in the tracking of Hurricane Ian, especially in the 3-5 day time frame. People in Florida should not focus on the details of the track, but the bigger picture of the forecast at longer time ranges.

Here’s the National Hurricane Center’s key message for Florida: “Hurricane Ian is expected to produce heavy rainfall and considerable flooding impacts later this week in west central Florida. Additional flash and urban flooding, and flooding on rivers across the Florida Peninsula and parts of the Southeast cannot be ruled out for later this week.”

“Hurricane Ian is expected to be a major hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico during the middle of this week. Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall along the west
coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of this week.”

While the path is not certain, local meteorologists and emergency management agencies have been advising Floridians to begin hurricane prep.

To that point, there’s already been a lot of rain in Central Florida recently, and some counties have already started sandbag services and are preparing shelters in the event that they’re necessary. In the meantime, it’s advised that residents stock up on supplies–canned food, bottled water, gas in generators, etc–out of an abundance of caution.

The forecast for Hurricane Ian prompted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency. DeSantis requested a federal emergency declaration ahead of landfall that would free up funding sources for emergency protective measures. Over the weekend, DeSantis expanded the state of emergency to all counties, citing the risk of a major hurricane making landfall on Florida’s western coast.

President Joe Biden also declared an emergency, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. The goal is to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in those same counties.

Ian is forecast to continue intensifying rapidly and become a major hurricane as soon tonight or early Tuesday. As Hurricane Ian approaches Florida, meteorologists are predicting that the storm could reach Category 4 status, which means sustained winds between 130 mph and 156 mph.

Hurricane Ian could cause “catastrophic” damage, according to the National Weather Service. Governor DeSantis reiterated this message and urged Floridians to take the storm seriously. “Even if you’re not right in the eye of the path of the storm, there’s going to be pretty broad impacts throughout the entire state,” DeSantis said.

With that said, we’re not attempting to be alarmists. Anyone who has experienced storm season in Florida knows these forecasts can–and usually do–change. In the past few years, hurricanes originally forecast to miss Florida entirely have swerved towards the state and others with a high probability of wreaking havoc have weakened at the last minute. We have witnessed this ourselves with both Hurricanes Irma, Dorian, and Isaias. Hopefully, Hurricane Ian will drift west rather than continuing its eastward shift towards Central Florida.

Nevertheless, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and be prepared rather than not taking a major storm system seriously. Even in the very best case scenario, Hurricane Ian will bring heavier than normal precipitation and wind to Central Florida, meaning that–at best–it’s going to an even rainier week at Walt Disney World. That’s saying a lot, as it’s been quite wet of late. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Hurricane Ian if you’re currently planning to be in the parks next week. At minimum, come prepared for heavy rain, as Walt Disney World is now in the heart of tropical storm season!

The operational impact on Walt Disney World is still unknown, aside from the aforementioned extreme weather. Nevertheless, local leaders are taking measures to prepare for the worst should Ian hit Central Florida, and are encouraging residents to stay home and take shelter.

The one thing Walt Disney World has done is remove hotel availability from the online booking engine for September 29, 2022. This often happens in advance of a storm with a high probability of making landfall in Florida. Usually, Disney will make these rooms available for Floridians who are ordered to evacuate from the coast.

Thus far, Walt Disney World has not issued any closures, warnings, or operational updates. In a normal year, when a storm is approaching Florida, will have a website banner that indicates how the parks & resorts will or will not be impacted, and whether the parks are operating normally or not.

Below is an example of what that looks like, from Hurricane Dorian:

Currently, Hurricane Ian is still a few days away from Walt Disney World, so the company might view it as slightly premature to post an operational update. However, we fully expect one later today or tomorrow as it appears this storm will impact Central Florida to some degree, and necessitate a relocation of guests from Fort Wilderness, at minimum. (That’s usually the very first thing to happen.)

Again, that’s not to say things could change, but spaghetti models currently forecast Hurricane Ian both intensifying and tracking to the east on a path that potentially puts landfall near the middle of the state. Regardless, you’ll want to keep tabs on Hurricane Ian if you have plans of being at Walt Disney World this week.

Since Walt Disney World has not yet issued any updates, its normal hurricane policy is in place. This takes effect when a hurricane warning is issued by the National Hurricane Center for the Orlando area or for the guest’s place of residence within 7 days before the scheduled arrival date of the storm. Although that has not happened yet, we’ve heard scattered reports of Disney accommodating guests and allowing cancellations or changes without penalty.

This is at the discretion of phone representative with whom you speak, and outcomes can differ given the circumstances. As always, be kind to Cast Members, booking agents, travel agents, or anyone whose assistance you need. Remember, they do not control the weather. (Which seems like a silly thing to type, but you’d be surprised how many people seem to think that.) If the concept of kindness for its own sake is too much to grasp, just remember that (selfishly!) you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

As for Hurricane Ian, we’ll keep you posted with updates from the National Hurricane Center and operational updates from Walt Disney World whenever one is released.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Are you expecting that Hurricane Ian will impact Walt Disney World? Are you currently in Central Florida? Have you visited during past hurricanes? Any additional info, thoughts, or first-hand experiences to share about riding out a hurricane at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

36 Responses to “Hurricane Ian Strengthens & Shifts Towards Disney World”
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