UPDATED STORY: Hurricane Dorian ‘very close’ to category 3 strength, could hit Florida as ‘monster’ category 4
Hurricane Dorian is continuing to strengthen and slow down as it spirals toward open ocean east of Florida, an unpredictable path leaving the entire state on warning.
Forecasters project the storm will be a Category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall Monday night on Florida’s east coast before traveling toward Tampa Bay. Category 4 storms have winds between 130 and 156 mph and are the second-highest hurricane-strength calculation.
Stores throughout the state have already sold out of water, and residents have posted to social media that gas stations are limiting the amount of gas available for purchase. The University of Central Florida and University of North Florida have canceled classes from Friday through Tuesday, and Florida State’s opening game Saturday against Boise State in Jacksonville has been moved to Tallahassee. The Rolling Stones concert scheduled for Saturday night in Miami Gardens has been moved up to Friday night.
President Donald Trump tweeted a video Thursday night saying the storm looked it “could be an absolute monster.”
“We’re all ready and hopefully we’ll get lucky," he said, “... but all indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big. Somebody said bigger or at least as big as Andrew (1992). And if you remember Andrew from many years ago, that was not good.”
He ended by saying, “Be aware. And Be safe. And God bless you.”
On Saturday night, the physical effects of the storm will begin — starting with tropical-storm-strength winds on Florida’s east coast, extending to Tampa Bay by Sunday morning. If current projections are true, Dorian will be the most dangerous here in the Tampa Bay area on Tuesday night.
“Have everything you have to do to prepare done by Saturday,” said Ken Graham, the National Hurricane Center’s director. “After that, just being outside with those winds will be dangerous.”
Dorian was just under 1,000 miles from Florida’s east coast at Category 1 strength at 5 p.m. Thursday, but nothing stands between it and the warm waters that fuel tropical systems.
The Hurricane Center expects Dorian to reach major hurricane status, Category 3 and above, by Friday morning, just before it shifts to a more westerly approach. The center said Dorian would be an “extremely dangerous” hurricane by Friday night.
“It’s been a pretty good system with movement and speed,” National Weather Service forecaster Tony Hurt said. “It’s expected to turn more west tomorrow and keep that direction and speed, then begin to slow as it approaches the coast line.”
With nearly the entire state at risk of being hit, Gov. Ron DeSantis extended his state of emergency to cover all 67 of Florida’s counties on Thursday. Locally, emergency management agencies have set up sandbagging stations throughout the area, but have not yet opened up shelters.
“When you have a storm of this amount of uncertainty — I mean, when the cone goes from the Florida Keys to Georgia — you want people to be prepared. And I think a lot of folks have heeded that call," DeSantis said in Brevard County on Thursday. “This could have an effect in virtually every part of the state."
Dorian has been making its way through the Caribbean and Atlantic between 12 and 13 mph. It narrowly avoided making landfall in Puerto Rico on its north-by-northwest journey. Forecast models are beginning to align with a central-east landfall, but with landfall still days away, it’s too early to determine a precise path. Forecasters hope to tighten the trajectory Friday.
“No matter where in the state it goes, the whole state will have impacts,” Graham said.
Once Dorian hits land, forecasters say it should turn and head north. However, it will slow as it makes landfall, bringing heavy and sustained rains across the state, including the Tampa Bay area.
“The biggest thing is that it’s going to be slowing down. With it slowing down, it increases rainfall,” Hurt said. “Any more rainfall, especially from a tropical system that could dump a lot of rainfall, that could be a problem.”
Tampa Bay is expected to get wind and rain as early as Sunday afternoon. The region is well above average rainfall for the year. Hurt said river creeks are pushing their limits and the soil is saturated. More rain would have nowhere to go.
Dorian’s track could change and hit in another area or even change to make its way west across the state, putting Tampa Bay in its direct path. Regardless, forecasters warn that rain from a Category 4 storm would be imminent and advise monitoring news and government agencies for updates and weather alerts.
The Hurricane Center hasn’t issued any warnings or watches yet. Life-threatening storm surge could reach east Florida this weekend, forecasters said.
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