Southeast Florida remains on high alert as the now “catastrophic” Hurricane Dorian has recorded winds between 185 and 220 mph, prompting more Florida counties to issue mandatory evacuations as the National Hurricane Center reports devastation in the Bahamas.
The Hurricane Center said Dorian is the “strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas," and still poses a threat to Florida, though, the state appears increasingly likely to avoid a direct hit.
“Mandatory evacuation orders have now been issued for coastal areas of Palm Beach County and Martin County,” said Governor Ron DeSantis on Sunday. “If you live in these areas, heed the warning and listen to your local officials. This is a dangerous hurricane. Your safety is paramount."
The 8 p.m. Sunday advisory by the Hurricane Center placed Dorian 155 miles east of West Palm Beach. The fate of Florida’s coast lies in a northern turn from Dorian and when it comes — something forecasters say they cannot fully determine yet, leaving Florida’s east coast under threat still.
Hurricane Dorian spent most of Sunday tearing through the Bahamas as a fearsome Category 5 storm — with some wind gusts topping 220 mph and the Bahamas receiving over 20 feet of storm surge. Initial images emerging on social media show flooded streets, and homes and buildings with sheared off roofs.
With the storm projected shift its thrashing from the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island to Grand Bahama Island on Sunday night through Monday, potentially dumping as much as 30 inches of rain in the process.
Bahamian Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis cried as he described Sunday as being the “worst day of his life" before saying that he hopes that those who refused to evacuate will survive the storm.
“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people,” he said during a press conference. "As a physician, I’ve been trained to withstand many things, but never anything like this. This will put us through a test that we’ve never confronted before.
"This is a deadly storm and a monster storm. I can only say to them, that I hope this is not the last time they will hear my voice and may God be with them.”
National Weather Service forecaster Eric Oglesby said Dorian now unofficially joins the Labor day hurricane of 1935 as the most powerful storms at landfall. The “Labor Day” hurricane’s wind speed was also 185 mph when it made landfall in the Florida Keys in September 1935.
DeSantis compared Dorian to the “Labor Day” hurricane, which he said ‘obliterated’ the Florida Keys, during a news conference in South Florida on Sunday.
"This storm, at this magnitude, can really cause massive destruction,” he said.
With storm surge over 20 feet, on top of inbound waves and the possibility of almost two feet of rain, National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham said it’s an “absolutely devastating, life-threatening situation in the Bahamas.”
Dorian is still about 205 miles from West Palm and its expected track has it staying out in the Atlantic as it heads north. However, much of Florida’s east coast remains in the “cone of uncertainty,” marking the hurricane’s potential path. The Hurricane Center said life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds remain possible along the east coast through mid-week, prompting more weather advisories and evacuations in Florida.
“I ask everyone in Hurricane Dorian’s path to heed all warnings and evacuation orders from local authorities," President Donald Trump said of Dorian on Sunday afternoon.
Toll fees on roads in South Florida have been waived as evacuations begin, state officials said. Shelters are also being opened in those counties.
The evacuations will affect about 215,000 Floridians, joining voluntary evacuations in Glades, Hendry, Indian River and Osceola counties.
Palm Beach County, one of the state’s most populous, is full of some of the state’s most well-known beach front properties, including President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
In addition, a hurricane watch was issued form north of Deerfield Beach to the Volusia-Brevard county line and a storm surge watch was issued from north of Deerfield Beach to the Volusia-Brevard county line. A tropical storm watch was issued for Lake Okeechobee and Golden Beach north to Deerfield beach.
Dorian is only the 35th category 5 Atlantic storm to be recorded in 168 years of record keeping.
Dorian is expected to make its pass at Florida late Monday or Tuesday as it shifts north.
President Trump on Friday declared a statewide emergency in Florida. Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, all now in Dorian’s path, have also issued states of emergency.
As the storm shifts away from Tampa Bay, residents are advised to remain vigilant as the storm’s outer bands could still make their way west. Emergency operations, however, are tamping down. St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County Announced Saturday that sandbag operations wouldn’t resume Sunday, although Pinellas County said it would continue handing bags out.
Tuesday school closures remain in effect for schools in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Hernando Counties. Airport operations are expected to continue as normal.
While Dorian prepares to skim the coasts of Florida and the southeastern U.S., the National Hurricane Center is already monitoring two more areas of activity in the tropics.
A tropical wave is producing disorganized storms just south of the Cabo Verde Islands. Forecasters said the wave could become a depression by the middle of next week. It’s chance of formation is 50 percent over the next two days and 70 percent over the next five days.
Meanwhile, an area of low pressure is slowly moving west across the south-central Gulf of Mexico with only a 20 percent chance of formation over the next 48 hours and 30 percent chance over the next five days.
Another area of disturbed weather is being watched several hundred miles south east of Bermuda. Forecasters said that system, too, can slowly develop over the next few days, giving it a 20 percent chance of formation over five days.
Times staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report
2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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