Hurricane Ian’s bands of winds and rain spared Citrus County as the Category 4 behemoth swept northeast across the Florida Peninsula, weakening to a tropical storm along the way.
Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies tallied over a dozen road closures and blockages from downed trees and power lines Thursday morning, Sept. 29, after Ian skirted by overnight, hitting the county from the east with wind gusts of around 40 mph.
No storm-related injuries or deaths were reported, according to the sheriff’s office.
Vegetation littered properties and roadways throughout the county, including a large oak tree that toppled next to the Hill and Pine Apartments at South Pine Avenue and West Hill Street in Inverness.
A tree also fell onto the Hilton Hall of the Floral City United Methodist Church, crushing the building’s roof and penetrating into a room below.
Sheriff’s office Captain Troy Hess, Citrus County’s interim emergency management director, said the county was “extremely blessed” thanks in part to the coordination of its people and government entities.
Hess said the county’s attentions should now focus on recovery efforts for the Floridians who were in Ian’s path as the 150-mph storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon near Cayo Costa in Lee County, sinking communities in the area with around 18 feet of storm surge.
“Our thoughts go out to the folks in southwest Florida and what they’re dealing with,” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted, and we’re very lucky, and now our thoughts are starting to turn to what we can do for those folks down there.”
According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Thursday morning, a 39 mph wind gust was recorded at 2:15 a.m. in Inverness.
Sustained winds of up to 22 mph were documented by the NWS at 4:35 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. at the Crystal River Airport, with wind gusts as high as 37 mph at 6:55 a.m.
According to the NWS, the highest rainfall amount in the last 24 hours was 1.34 inches collected from a weather station just over a mile south, southeast of Inverness.
Several thousand lost power in Citrus County, according to outage numbers reported by the county’s three energy providers – Duke Energy, the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative (WREC) and the Sumter Electric Cooperative (SECO).
WREC crews expect to restore power to 3,541 Citrus County customers within the next 24 to 48 hours.
“We are certainly on it,” WREC spokesman David Lambert said, “and we will work 24/7 to get everybody restored as quickly as possible.”
Duke Energy reported 45 active outages affecting 2,971 of its customers, mostly in Beverly Hills, according to the company’s outage map.
While no longer under a storm surge warning, Citrus County’s coast could still experience what the NWS is expecting to be a “nonevent” of higher tides, Hess said.
As it churns counterclockwise toward the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, Ian’s tail and westerly winds will whip Gulf of Mexico waters on Citrus County shores, refilling the empty bottoms of coastal waterbodies the storm’s easterly winds drained Wednesday into Thursday.
Hess said Ian’s windy grasp on Citrus County will slip as it moves farther into the Atlantic Ocean, where it’s forecast to restrengthen into a Category 1 storm before striking the Southeast’s Atlantic coast, but Gulf waters will return to Citrus County.
“How fast that’s going to occur or when exactly,” the captain said, “I don’t have answer to that.”