WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Tropical Storm Ian is forecast to begin rapidly intensifying and become a hurricane on Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said late Saturday night.
Hurricane and tropical storm watches are now in effect for western Cuba.
Ian is now packing winds of 50 mph and moving west at 13 mph as of 11 p.m.
The forecast cone continues to shift farther west, with a large portion of South Florida no longer in the cone. However, WPTV First Alert Weather meteorologist John Gerard said there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the storm's eventual track.
Ian is forecast to move into the Gulf of Mexico and become a Category 4 hurricane next week.
The latest models show a hurricane could come ashore in the Florida Panhandle on Thursday at 8 p.m. as a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds.
"That would leave us on what we call the dirty side, or the stronger side, but how far away is going to be the million-dollar question here, whether we see a direct hit or just a glancing blow," Gerard said.
Regardless, Gerard said, it's important that residents prepare for the worst-case scenario.
"Even if it goes farther west, let's not assume that's going to happen," he said. "Regardless of the track, we will be impacted because we're on the stronger side."
On the forecast track, the center of Ian is forecast to pass well southwest of Jamaica on Sunday, and pass near or west of the Cayman Islands early Monday.
Ian will then move near or over western Cuba Monday night and early Tuesday and emerge over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for:
* Grand Cayman
A hurricane watch is in effect for:
* Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio, and Artemisa
A tropical storm watch is in effect for:
* Little Cayman and Cayman Brac
* Cuban provinces of La Habana, Mayabeque and Matanzas