BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida Wednesday afternoon as a category four storm and it packed a punch. Storm surge, heavy rain and high-speed winds affected people from Fort Myers to Tampa to Orlando.
The storm is set to blast through the Sunshine State, traveling from west to east. It is then expected to turn back toward the southeastern United States once it gets over the Atlantic Ocean.
Western New Yorkers know how to brace for heavy snow, high winds and frigid cold, but hurricanes are a different story. Several people from the region who have relocated to the area have been affected by the hurricane and say they have never seen anything like this storm.
Evacuations, storm surge, flooding, rain, thunderstorms and wind impacted millions. On Wednesday night, more than 1.8 million homes were without power. Some residents who have relocated from Western New York say they would rather brace for snow than a hurricane.
“Up in Buffalo, I’ve seen a little bit during the winter, but nothing like this down here,” Steven Piscitelli of Great Valley said. “We’re probably 3/4 of a mile from downtown Fort Myers and it’s just devastated downtown right now.”
Piscitelli was in South Florida for the Buffalo Bills game against the Miami Dolphins. He visited his condo in the Fort Myers area after the game and is now waiting out the storm. He was not asked to evacuate, so he stayed with his condo to weather Hurricane Ian.
Just like lake effect snow bands in WNY, Hurricane Ian is having different effects on different areas. Closer to the coastline, there is significant storm surge. Inland, there is heavy wind and rain.
“It’s like going from East Aurora to Elma and being in four feet of snow and being in an inch of snow,” Orth said.
Karen Ritter lives in Lancaster, but was in the Tampa Bay area to visit her son, who lives in Port Richey, Fla. She is in Florida on a vacation and was not planning on returning to Western New York until mid-October. Ritter was in the evacuation zone earlier this week when Hurricane Ian’s track was headed more toward Tampa-St. Petersburg. She left the area Monday and is staying in Leesburg, Fla., just north of Orlando.
“It was surreal, right? You know, you’re driving by gas stations and every pump is packed with people and cars. The supermarkets were busy,” Ritter said.
Hurricane Ian is still moving north through Central Florida. Ritter said she is bracing for severe wind gusts because the storm is still very strong. The devastation is already shocking for some. Her son lives in a mobile home and she is just hoping it is still standing when they return.
“Just leaving it and the thought of — that it might not be standing when you get back — is just a terrifying thought,” Ritter added.
Flights from Buffalo to many Florida destinations have been canceled until further notice. Major airports in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando have grounded flights. Emergency responders were encouraging people to stay home and off of the roads.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.