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Central Florida could see a direct hit from Hurricane Ian, as it crosses the state

Map: Florida Storms/FPREN
Map: Florida Storms/FPREN

This article was updated at 9 p.m. to reflect changes in the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service forecasts.

As Hurricane Ian barreled toward Southwest Florida Tuesday, the official forecast track turned directly across Central Florida.

On Thursday afternoon, the eye of Ian -- by then a tropical storm -- could be over Orlando, according to the National Hurricane Center.

But the impacts -- high winds, prolonged flooding rains and, possibly, tornadoes -- will likely have been pounding Central Florida for a full day by then.

Heavy rainfall is expected throughout Central Florida, with some areas seeing as much as 20 inches.

Tropical storm force winds were forecast in Central Florida by Wednesday afternoon but could arrive as earlier as 8 a.m., according to the hurricane center.

As of 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, a tropical storm warning was in effect for Marion, Sumter, Volusia and Brevard counties. The rest of Central Florida was under a hurricane warning.

Orlando International Airport is halting commercial flights after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday because of the storm. The airport announced that travelers should contact their airline if they have questions about how this impacts their flights. Orlando Sanford International Airport is canceling flights Wednesday and Thursday.

Disney announced that the Disney World theme parks in Orlando will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Disney Springs will be closed Wednesday and likely on Thursday, too.

Across Central Florida, counties were closing schools, handing out sandbags and opening shelters.

Osceola County Emergency Manager Bill Litton said residents had the rest of Tuesday to make preparations for Hurricane Ian.

"We will start seeing the impacts of the tropical force winds by 8 a.m. tomorrow," he said during a Tuesday press conference. "And those will not be subsiding till early morning on Friday morning. We will be asking all of our residents to stay off the roads and shelter in place for both Wednesday and Thursday for their safety."

He urged residents in flood-prone areas to evacuate.

Sumter County recommended evacuation for residents in manufactured homes and flood-prone areas and those who have special needs or feel unsafe by themselves.

Emergency Management Director David Casto said evacuees should find refuge with a friend or family member in a safer home.

“If no other options are available, go to one of the local shelters only as a last option," he said in a prepared statement.

Brevard County officials are urging residents to get ready for a major rain event.

In Volusia County, the county chairman, Jeff Brown, said he expects major flooding and that residents should be prepared to stay put after the storm until it’s safe to travel.

"It’s not safe to travel the roads when you can’t see the road you don’t know what debris is under the water or what condition the road is in," he said.

WMFE reporters Brendan Byrne and Danielle Prieur contributed to this article.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.