Hurricane Ian expected to become Category 4 storm before landfall over Florida's Gulf Coast Wednesday

Hurricane Ian's track has shifted south of the Tampa Bay area Tuesday evening, but the storm continues to strengthen as it moves toward Florida's Gulf Coast. 

The storm could make landfall as a Category 3 or Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon or evening. 

In its 5 p.m. update Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center shows Hurricane Ian as a Category 3 storm, spinning southwest of the Florida Keys and northeast of Cuba.

Evacuations have been issued in many areas along the West Coast of Florida.

Hurricane Ian's predicted track as of11 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center expanded its hurricane warning to include Bonita Beach north through Tampa Bay to Pinellas, Polk, and Hillsborough counties. 

Slight track shifts to the south and east continue to reduce the level of predicted storm surge in Tampa Bay and along nearby coastal counties, but those numbers now increase for areas from Longboat Key to Bonita Springs. 

FOX 13 Meteorologist Paul Dellegatto said storm surge predictions have reduced to 1-3' for Manatee County and counties north. Areas of Sarasota County may now see higher levels of storm surge along the coast if the current track plays out. 

Still, Ian can head in any direction within the forecast cone. 

View of Hurricane Ian at 11 p.m. Tuesday.

During a Tuesday morning press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said more traffic is anticipated along Interstate 75. Transportation officials may open the outside shoulder lane when sustained traffic reaches below 40 mph.

Because Ian is forecast to slow to a crawl, it can be a "massive water event" for parts of the West Coast.

Predictions for major storm surge have moved south of Tampa Bay to northern Manatee and all of Sarasota County

Predictions for major storm surge have moved south of Tampa Bay to northern Manatee and all of Sarasota County

Hurricane warnings have been issued for Polk, Desoto, Hardee, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. New hurricane warnings have also been issued to the south for Charlotte and Lee counties. 

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, and Highlands counties.

Hurricane Ian watches and warnings as of 11 a.m. Sept 27.

READ: How will Hurricane Ian impact the Tampa Bay area? Here's a county-by-county breakdown

According to the National Hurricane Center, Ian will pass west of the Florida Keys Tuesday evening and approach the west coast of Florida on Wednesday.

Between 5 p.m. Tuesday and 1 p.m. Wednesday, the storm is expected to crawl toward Florida before finally making landfall as a Category 3 or Category 4 storm.

Image 1 of 2

Hurricane Ian predicted path Wednesday at noon

Landfall is expected sometime after 3 p.m. Wednesday.

By 5 a.m. Thursday, the west coast of Florida is nearly clear of predicted storm activity and FOX 13 Chief Meteorologist Paul Dellegatto said the sunset may be visible around the Tampa Bay Area Thursday night.

Meanwhile, evacuations have been ordered along the coast and in low-lying areas.

Check your county's status: County by county: Tropical Storm Ian emergency information

Lee County -- where Fort Myers is on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast -- also issued mandatory evacuations early Tuesday for low-lying areas including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Bonita Beach, where about 250,000 people live, after forecasters expanded the hurricane warning area.

Monroe, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties announced school closures beginning Wednesday, Sept. 28.

In Key West, the airport closed Tuesday as gusty rains from the storm added to a king tide to swamp the streets, prompting animal rescuers to delay venturing out until after Ian passes. In Orlando, Disney World closed four hotels as a precautionary measure while holding off on any decision to shut down its theme parks. In Florida’s northeastern corner, the U.S. Navy said it planned to move ships and aircraft from its base outside Jacksonville.

Damaging winds and flooding are expected across the entire peninsula as Ian moves north, reaching into Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of the southeastern U.S. between Friday and Sunday, the hurricane center said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report