(Bloomberg) -- After rapidly intensifying over warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Ian slammed into southwestern Florida yesterday as a massive Category 4 storm with winds of up to 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour. That means it’s one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall in the state as well as in the whole US.As of Thursday morning, more than 2 million people were without power across the state. Videos and pictures circulating on Twitter showed water surging past beach-front properties into neighboring streets in Fort Myers,  Bonita Springs, and Sanibel Island.  Cars and even homes were sighted floating in flood waters, while power lines and trees were downed, according to early reports. Before reaching the US, the storm knocked out Cuba’s power grid. Ian is proving to be a disaster for the history books — and though it slowed to 90 miles an hour overnight, weakening into a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson scale,  it’s nowhere close to done. 

That’s because Ian is the type of storm that weather experts have long warned could strike the western coast of Florida, where development and population numbers have boomed in recent decades despite the hurricane risk. It’s a triple threat, walloping a large area with catastrophic winds, heavy rainfall and storm surge — when strong winds and low pressure push walls of ocean water ashore. 

And make no mistake that climate change had something to do with it. Rising sea levels are boosting storm surges, while warmer air and water are causing storms to become rainier and to intensify faster. 

“As Hurricane Ian bears down on Florida, we already know it’s stronger and will dump a lot more rain than the same hurricane would have a hundred years ago,” tweeted climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University and the Nature Conservancy on Monday. 

Samantha Montano, an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, said the powerful winds may not do the worst damage. “Certainly, the wind threat is significant with this storm,” said Montano. “But I think it’s definitely from the flooding, both the storm surge and rainfall, that’s going to cause the majority of the damage we will see.” 

Storm surge was predicted to reach up to 18 feet in some places along the coast, while areas far inland could see more than 20 inches of rain by the time the storm is over, the National Hurricane Center said yesterday. “It’s going to take a while for a lot of this water to drain out,” Montano said. 

With Ian still live and expected to scoot up the East Coast later in the week, it could take days, perhaps weeks, to get a full accounting of the damage left in its wake.  The initial response will be focused on search and rescue. Thousands of flights were cancelled, schools were closed, and millions of people in the storm’s path were urged to evacuate. But it’s unclear exactly how many actually left home. 

From ruined orange farms to pummeled homes, Ian may cause upwards of $67 billion in damages, according to Enki Research disaster modeler Chuck Watson. 

Meanwhile, environmentalists have warned about the possibility of a chemical spill at facilities storing a fertilizer byproduct. Florida is home to much of America’s production of phosphate fertilizer, and the company Mosaic Co. has several phosphate plants east of Tampa.

Recovery from Ian “is going to take years,” said Montano. As that gets started, she added, “we want to make sure that we’re building communities in a way that they are ready for future climate impacts — whether sea-level rise or hurricanes or some other hazard.”

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