The threat of strong winds and heavy rain this weekend is rising as Tropical Storm Dorian churns toward Florida, with the Tampa Bay region sitting right inside the storm’s 5-day cone of uncertainty.
But while Dorian is projected to reach Florida on Sunday afternoon, whether it does so as a hurricane depends on its path through the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The future strength and intensity of the storm largely depends on whether it strikes Puerto Rico or Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the hurricane center said in its 5 p.m. advisory on Tuesday.
A hurricane watch is still in effect in both Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Dorian is projected to either make a direct strike there, or bypass the two islands late Wednesday night as a Category 1 hurricane. If the storm were to make landfall on either island, the wind shear and mountain ranges would greatly weaken it, forecasters said.
Dorian was 330 miles south-east of Ponce, Puerto Rico with maximum sustained wind speeds of about 50 mph, according to the 5 p.m. bulletin. It would need to reach wind speeds of 74 mph and above to become classified as a Category 1 storm.
After passing Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the National Weather Service expects Dorian will gradually re-strengthen on Thursday and Friday as it enters Atlantic waters and passes near or to the east of the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas.
Then it is expected to move on to South Florida.
In preparation for the storm, the Puerto Rico National Guard has placed equipment across Puerto Rico and San Juan’s mayor started opening up emergency shelters. The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department also sent a 45-member urban search and rescue team to Puerto Rico so they’ll be in place ahead of the storm.
“We pray that this storm does not hit us directly, but it is very likely that is will pass close along the southern coast,” Maj. Gen. Jose J. Reyes of the National Guard said in a statement.
While Puerto Rico prepares for a direct strike, the hurricane center warned Floridians they need to start preparing for that same possibility.
“Take time now to prepare a hurricane emergency kit,” the center said. “Don’t wait until a warning is issued and the stores are empty or closed. Prepare an emergency plan and make sure every member of your family knows what to do if they aren’t home when an emergency is declared.”
Despite the uncertainty about the storm’s future path and intensity, what forecasters do know is that it will likely bring considerable wind and rain to the state later this week and into weekend― regardless of whether it becomes a tropical storm or hurricane.
The effects of Tropical Storm Dorian were already being felt along portions of the Lesser Antilles throughout Tuesday afternoon, as tropical storm watches and warnings took effect. Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches is expected from Martinique to St. Vincent, with as much as 10 inches possible through Tuesday night.
Dorian is the fourth tropical storm of this season. If it reaches hurricane strength, it will be the second of the Atlantic storm season.
2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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