Hurricane Dorian update: Storm gaining strength as it heads to Florida
Hurricane Dorian is still predicted to strike Florida as a dangerous Category 4 storm but now a bit later, possibly sometime Tuesday afternoon, and in a still very uncertain location.
The forecast track continued to subtly shift up and down the state’s East Coast, moving a bit north toward Fort Pierce in the latest 8 p.m. Friday prediction from the National Hurricane Center. That jog followed two days of slight shifts south that raised the risk of damaging impacts to Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — the state’s most populated region.
Such small shifts — this one about 55 miles — are common for complicated computer modeling runs and for approaching hurricanes. But they will make a big difference with a formidable storm like Dorian, which is expected to arrive packing sustained winds as high as 140 mph and pushing a damaging hurricane wind field 60 miles wide.
Forecasters cautioned that more back-and-forth movement in the next few days was likely in the track for Dorian, which already has taken an entire state on a roller-coaster ride of anxiety in the five-day cone of uncertainty. There was even potential that Dorian might turn north before it reaches the coast, leaving its worst winds in the Atlantic Ocean. But, forecasters said, it was simply too soon to tell.
“The track forecast by the end of the forecast period is highly uncertain, and any small deviation in the track could bring the core of the powerful hurricane well inland over the Florida, keep it near the coast, or offshore,” forecasters wrote.
Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that evacuation orders could begin as early as Saturday in the most vulnerable coastal areas, including in Palm Beach, Martin and Brevard counties. Tropical storm watches and warnings also will likely go up this weekend as well.
DeSantis warned that Dorian could be a “multi-day storm” and said officials have distributed about a million gallons of water and plan to distribute almost two million meals from a central warehouse hub in Orlando. He also said President Donald Trump had approved his request for a federal disaster declaration for the state.
“That will enable us to draw down more federal resources in anticipation of this storm,” he said in a media briefing. “The constant in this storm...is that this thing is getting stronger.”
Beyond the threat of major hurricane winds, the NHC also raised the risks of flooding rain for Florida. The storm, with maximum sustained winds now hitting 125 mph, was expected to slow down when it reaches Florida’s coast, which could mean it stalls out and dumps so much rain it can be measured in feet. NHC predicted the southeast coast could see anywhere from six to 12 inches of rain, with some spots getting up to 18 inches.
There were not yet storm surge predictions for Florida, but the Bahamas is expected to see 10 to 15 feet of surge, “dangerous waves” and anywhere from two to four inches of rain in the central Bahamas and between 10 to 15 inches in the northwestern Bahamas. Andros Island was under a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning for issued the rest of the northwestern Bahamas.
They key to the forecast, and Dorian’s eventual destination, was a ridge of high pressure air near Bermuda. Early modeling showed it driving Dorian into a hard west turn, possibly toward South Florida. By Friday, the models detected some weakness in the ridge, which could slow the looming storm and turn it more to the north.
As of the 8 p.m. update, Dorian was about 400 miles east of the northwestern Bahamas and 575 miles east of West Palm Beach.
Florida National Guard commander James Eifert said that 2,000 National Guard members have been activated, and that that number would double by Saturday.
Juliet Roulhac, the director of external affairs for Florida Power & Light, said a Broward news conference Friday that the agency “is in full storm mode” and has “pre-deployed and pre-positioned 13,000 workers” ahead of the storm. FPL is also working with other companies outside of the state to bring in more workers.
“With any storm activation we ask that you prepare for the worst and of course we all hope for the best,” she said. “And in preparing for the worst, be assured that you have supplies, batteries that will sustain you for at least two weeks of power outage. We hope that does not happen, but we want you to be prepared.”
As Hurricane Dorian churned far offshore, residents of Fort Pierce, where the storm is currently projected to make landfall, had some concerns about the scars the storm could leave on their slice of the Treasure Coast.
“There’s little left of this,” said Larry Weiner, sweat dripping from his nose as he took a break from filling plastic bags with sand.
“The Real Florida,” said Pete Tesch, from the other side of the mound.
Weiner drove up to St. Lucie County from Pembroke Pines to tend to a property he owns. Given the uncertain location of Dorian’s landfall, he’s got a second round of preparations back in Broward planned for Saturday.
The wind and waves might be welcoming now, but they could get fierce in the coming days. Folks herr would like Dorian to take a sharp turn out to sea.
Tesch, who’s lived on the island for six years, worries about his 86-year-old mother. She lives on the island too. They’re both storm veterans, but Dorian’s increasing strength is concerning.
“We’ll evacuate if it looks like a direct hit,” Tesch said.
Miami Herald Staff Writers Michelle Marchante, Elizabeth Koh, Joey Flechas and Carli Teproff contributed to this story.