12:30 P.M. UPDATE: Polk County public schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday as some schools activate as storm shelters for people evacuating their homes in advance of Hurricane Ian’s high winds and rain, Polk County Public Schools announced today. All after-school events, including athletics, are being suspended both days. No decision has been made yet on whether schools will remain closed beyond Wednesday.

In addition, Florida Southern College has cancelled this week’s classes, and Southeastern University will do so Wednesday through Friday. This week’s Lakeland-Lake Gibson high school football game has been rescheduled from Thursday to tonight.

County emergency officials will share shelter information “as it becomes available,” PCPS said in its announcement.

The decision to close isn’t binding on private or charter schools, the school district said, adding, “Those schools should be contacted directly for more information.”

The National Hurricane Center’s 8 a.m. update today shows Ian in the Caribbean Sea and centered less than 100 miles southwest of Grand Cayman moving northwest at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, making it a Category 1 Hurricane. The storm is expected to pass over the western edge of Cuba and gain intensity over open seas.

A hurricane watch has been issued for Florida’s west coast counties of Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas and Hillsborough, and Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday urged residents to start making preparations.

The latest Hurricane Center predictions show Lakeland near the eastern edge of a cone of probability whose center skirts Tampa Bay and makes landfall around Cedar Key early Friday. However, the predicted path has shifted several times in the last few days and experts warn that more shifts can be expected in the next few days.

“It should again be stressed that there is still significant uncertainty in the track of Ian, especially in the 3-5 day time frame, and users should not focus on the details of the track forecast at longer time ranges,” the Hurricane Center said.

Wind shears could slow down the storm’s intensity as it parallels the Gulf Coast, Bay News 9 reported. The station’s Josh Linker said tropical storm conditions could be felt as early as Wednesday morning south of Tampa Bay and last until Thursday evening north of the bay.

Schools and colleges

Polk Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid issued a statement on Sunday afternoon, saying he doesn’t anticipate schools closing today or Tuesday, but he said: “If current forecasts hold, we will likely announce school closures for Wednesday and Thursday. Again, no decision to close schools has been made at this time. However, I feel it is important to give you as much information as possible so you can plan accordingly.”

It is possible that Tuesday evening after-school activities could be cancelled if weather conditions warrant it, Heid said.

Florida Southern College has cancelled all classes this week because of the storm, according to the student newspaper, The Southern. FSC’s Emergency Management Team communicated the decision via an email that said the cancellations were made to “allow students to travel home if they choose to.”

Polk State College posted that no decisions have been made about classes yet and urged students to monitor polk.edu for updates.

Southeastern University announced classes will be held today and Tuesday but all classes and events are cancelled from Wednesday through Friday to ensure safety.

The Lakeland-Lake Gibson high school football schedule, which had been scheduled for Thursday, will be played tonight at 7:30 at Bryan Stadium to avoid the expected storms. Both teams were off last week, which made it easier to reschedule, The Ledger reported.

Check a Hurricane Preparedness Guide and Disaster Preparedness Guide from the Polk County Emergency Operations Center

Sandbags, county lands

Polk County’s Emergency Operations Center will continue distributing sandbags at seven sites at county road maintenance locations. until 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. The closest to Lakeland are:

The sites, which opened Sunday, will remain open until 5:30 p.m. daily today and then open from 7 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday. After that, the sites will convert to storm recovery operations, Polk Emergency Management said this afternoon. Check a list of all seven sites.

A long line of cars was waiting for sandbags at the Mulberry site early this afternoon, and officials said wait times were around two hours.

More than 19,500 sandbags were distributed on Sunday at the county’s sites, with the Kathleen location being the most active, The Ledger reported.

“A maximum of 10 sandbags will be provided to each household to help prevent water intrusion into the home,” the county said in a news release. Sand will be available at the sites for residents to fill the bags.

The county also announced the closure of environmental lands and stormwater treatment wetlands starting Monday and lasting “until further notice.”

The sites include Circle B Bar Reserve, Crooked Lake Prairie, Crooked Lake Sandhill, Gator Creek Reserve, Hickory Lake Scrub, Lakeland Highlands Scrub, Marshall Hampton Reserve, North Walk-in-Water Creek, Peace River Hammock, Sherwood L. Stokes Preserve, Alafia Reserve and SUMICA.

Other closures, info

  • The Polk Museum of Art announced it will close Wednesday and Thursday as a precaution.
  • The Polk Theatre announced it is cancelling its Thursday screening of the film “Ghost.”
  • Polk Board of County Commissioner offices will be closed to the public for non-essential business on Wednesday and Thursday, County Manager Bill Beasley announced.
  • Polk County Emergency Management has activated a Citizen’s Information Line to answer Hurricane Ian-related questions at (863) 401-2234 (locally) or toll-free 866-661-0228.

Helpful links from LakelandMom.com

Facebook Pages to follow for updates: 

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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