Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) closed the Skyway Bridge Wednesday morning, citing winds ranging between 50 to 60 mph brought on by Hurricane Ian.
The bridge is closed in both directions, and will remain closed until the storm passes and the poor weather subsides, FHP said. Officials advise motorists who need to travel Wednesday or Thursday to confirm the availability of their route by checking Florida Highway Patrol Current Traffic Incidents or FL511 Florida Traffic.
Pinellas County issued a mandatory evacuation order for high risk areas ahead of Hurricane Ian after officials warned residents Monday morning to prepare and move inland.
Although the Skyway Bridge is closed, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday morning that access to the county’s barrier islands has been restored as Hurricane Ian begins to make landfall in the state.
Access is currently restricted to residents, property owners, business owners and employees and contractors of barrier islands. In order to gain access, one must prove either a barrier island reentry permit or a form of identification that shows proof of residence or work in the area.
The Sheriff’s Office will reassess access midday. An evacuation order is still in place for the islands.
Hurricane Ian rapidly intensified off Florida’s Southwest coast Wednesday morning, gaining top winds of 155 mph, just shy of the most dangerous Category 5 status. Damaging winds and rain lashed the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast, with the Naples to Sarasota region at “highest risk” of a devastating storm surge.
U.S. Air Force hurricane hunters confirmed Ian gained strength over warm Gulf of Mexico water after battering Cuba, bringing down the country’s electricity grid and leaving the entire island without power. Ian was centered about 65 miles west-southwest of Naples at 7 a.m., swirling toward the coast at 10 mph.