With hurricane Ian set to make landfall on the west coast of Florida today, schools and universities across the state are shuttering their doors and bracing for impact. The storm intensified to a Category 4 on Wednesday morning, reaching wind speeds threateningly close to Category 5 gusts. More than 2.5 million Floridians have been placed under evacuation mandates, prompting widespread school closures across the state. More than half of the state’s K-12 elementary schools were closed for the remainder of the week, with some districts such as Manatee County opening their doors to serve as emergency shelters as the storm approaches.
Florida colleges and state universities have also announced closures en masse, encouraging students on campus to heed evacuation warnings. While many colleges and universities on Florida’s east coast anticipate reopening later in the week, schools on the gulf coast—where the storm’s impact is projected to be most severe—are projecting closures until early next week.
Hurricane Ian poses unique challenges for college campuses, as Florida is home to a handful of the country’s largest public universities. Universities outside of the area of direct impact made preparations to close down their campuses while allowing students to remain in campus housing at their discretion. The University of Florida announced that the university recreation center would be available as a shelter for its campus community and promised to keep dining services available for students who are unable to evacuate, while the University of Central Florida, the largest university in the United States with a student population of nearly 70,000, offered grocery shuttles for students who needed last-minute supplies and provisions during the campus closure. Meanwhile, schools closer to the gulf coast have closed their dorms, relocating students or mandating evacuations. The University of South Florida closed residence halls on its St. Petersburg campus, moving students to the university’s Tampa campus further inland.