The National Hurricane Center Friday said Hurricane Dorian is a powerful category 2 storm, gusting well over 110 mph as it continues to slow and strengthen to a potentially catastrophic storm, putting the entire state of Florida on alert.
“This system is very close to being a cat 3 hurricane,” Lixion Avila, senior hurricane specialist said Friday morning.
Category 3 hurricanes are considered major hurricanes and have sustained winds of 111-129 mph.
The slowing storm is now expected to make landfall just north of Palm Beach, home to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, sometime late Monday or early Tuesday. Trump said the storm could be an “absolute monster” when it hits.
The storm was about 230 miles northeast of the southeastern Bahamas Friday at 8 a.m. Current projections have it passing those islands before turning west and striking the northwest Bahamas as a major hurricane late in the weekend. A hurricane watch is in effect for the northwest Bahamas.
“It’s slowed down considerably,” National Weather Service forecaster John McMichael said. “At this point in time, they’re expecting it to be a category 4 when it reaches the east coast of Florida.”
Stores across Florida have already reported running out of water and other popular hurricane items like bread and generators, though Publix representatives said the chain is hurrying to restock water. Attorney General Ashley Moody activated the state’s price gouging hotline Friday for consumers to report illegal price hikes of necessary commodities.
Dorian has already been called an “extremely dangerous” category 2 storm by the Hurricane Center and was just shy of category 3 strength Friday. The storm has been slowing, giving it more time to strengthen in the Atlantic. It’s going to hit the warm waters of the Gulf Stream soon, forecasters said, which will give it even more fuel to grow to a category 4 storm as it continues its fearsome crawl to the Sunshine State, bringing winds over 130 mph.
“The risk of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida east coast has increased,” the Hurricane Center wrote Friday, “although it is too soon to determine where the highest storm surge will occur.”
The storm would also bring “devastating” winds, the Hurricane Center said.
Dorian’s cone of uncertainty still includes the entire state, prompting Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in all 67 Florida counties.
“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 Thursday in a news conference at the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center. “This could have an effect in virtually every part of the state."
A ridge of high pressure above Florida has been giving forecasting models a difficult time, increasing Dorian’s uncertainty, McMichael said. It won’t be until the storm is within 48 hours of landfall that a more certain path will be determined.
Some models show Dorian riding up the east coast because of a weak ridge, while others have the storm pushing further inland. on a stronger ridge.
McMichael said there’s somewhat of a consensus among major models that show a stronger ride holding, meaning it’d take a longer time to turn north once it makes landfall and more effects inland and to the west coast.
The Tampa Bay could see tropical storm-force winds by Monday and heavy rains heading into Tuesday that could dump more than a foot of rain on a swath of the state already pushed to the brink of what it can handle. The Weather Service said flooding rain, wind, surge, and tornadoes could last 2 days or more.
“If it does stay slow and it does move inland, there’s gonna be a lot of flooding going on,” McMichael said. “It could happen earlier if the storm grows in size.”
2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter