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The latest Hurricane Dorian questions, answered

Comment below or email your questions to local@tampabay.com with “Dorian” in the subject line and we’ll do our best to answer them.
Park rangers look out from South Pointe Park in Miami Beach on Saturday. Forecasters say Hurricane Dorian will threaten the Florida peninsula late Monday or early Tuesday.
Park rangers look out from South Pointe Park in Miami Beach on Saturday. Forecasters say Hurricane Dorian will threaten the Florida peninsula late Monday or early Tuesday. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Aug. 31, 2019|Updated Aug. 31, 2019

We want to answer your questions related to the storm. Comment below, and we’ll do our best to find out what you need to know.

What’s the latest on Hurricane Dorian’s track?

Dorian is slowly moving on a northeast trajectory and still a Category 4 hurricane, as of Saturday afternoon. At this point, it may not hit the Florida coastline directly. That doesn’t mean the wind and rain won’t cause considerable damage, but the path may spare central Florida and Tampa Bay.

Dorian’s slow pace is bad news, meteorologists say. The more time the storm has over the warm-ish waters of the Atlantic, the stronger the storm will become.

What’s the best/worst case for Tampa Bay?

If Dorian turns north and Tampa Bay stays to the west of it, we will see much weaker winds, rain and significantly less storm surge, National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Mroczka said.

Mroczka said we can expect to see the effects by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Read more here.

How wide is a Category 4 hurricane?

According to the National Hurricane Center, categories are determined on the Saffir-Simpson Scale only by wind speed. Width isn’t part of the formula.

Has Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for any Tampa Bay-area counties?

On Thursday, DeSantis declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state ahead of landfall, expanding from the 26 counties on the East Coast.

When’s the last time a storm of this strength hit the East Coast and what happened in Tampa Bay?

Bryan Mroczka, the National Weather Service meteorologist, said “all hurricanes come in different sizes, shapes and strengths,” but that 2004′s Frances and Jeanne, which hit Hutchinson Island as Category 2 and 3 storms, respectively, before weakening and moving westward, most resemble Dorian’s trajectory. Both those storms brought quite a bit of rain, wind damage and storm surge to the Tampa Bay area, he said, but what’s different about Dorian is how slowly it’s moving. Heavy rainfall and inland flooding, he said, is the biggest concern right now as he said we can expect to see that for an extended period of time as the storm moves through.

“When people close their eyes and think of a hurricane, the first thing they think of is wind,” he said. “But water is just as dangerous. This slow moving storm is going to produce very heavy rainfall.”

Will schools be open on Tuesday?

The area’s four public school districts -- Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando -- said they will be closed at least through Tuesday, as did the University of South Florida, the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida. The school systems urged students and families to keep in touch on their websites and social media accounts for updates concerning the rest of next week. Also closing through Tuesday are St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College. Pasco-Hernando State College announced it will close through Wednesday. Check here for a complete list.

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Despite the storm’s shift, Hillsborough and Pinellas county schools will remain closed on Tuesday, officials announced Saturday. The storm could still shift, and employees and their families have made plans since the Friday announcement, said Hillsborough school spokesman Grayson Kamm. If just 10 percent of the school district’s 24,000 employees can’t make it back, “it would be unworkable,” Kamm said.

Kamm said school officials think they can make the time up without taking away a vacation day or holiday.

Lisa Wolf, Pinellas County spokeswoman, said the schools could still be needed as shelters.

What local preparations have been made for the storm? Where can you get sandbags?

Here’s a map to show you where they’re available. (You may be asked to provide local ID at the sandbag pickup locations. Officials may also limit the number of sandbags per person.)

St. Petersburg officials announced Saturday morning that sandbags will be available only until 5 p.m. Saturday. After that, they won’t distribute them until further notice. Elsewhere in Pinellas County, sandbags will be distributed until 7 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Hernando County’s self-serve sandbag sites will be open until 6 p.m. Saturday, officials said, and Hillsborough County’s sandbag sites will be open until 8 p.m.

In Pasco County, officials declared a local state of emergency because they are bracing for as much as 10 more inches of rain to cap an already soaking wet month. Flooding could be in the cards for the county’s Anclote and Withlacoochee rivers.

If you live in Pasco, this story will be your continuously updated resource.

In Pinellas County, officials urged residents to follow local government social media accounts for updates. If you live in Pinellas, this story is your resource.

In Hillsborough County, officials have partially opened the county’s emergency operations center, but they haven’t opened any shelters yet. If you live in Hillsborough, here’s your guide.

In Hernando County, officials said Saturday morning that wind gusts of more than 40 mph are expected throughout the day Tuesday, given the storm’s current trajectory. If you live in Hernando, this story will be your resource.

We will update this section with more information as it becomes available.

Do sandbags work?

Kind of! They might work, if you’re only expecting a few inches of flooding and you’ve set up sandbags around the perimeter of your house.

In the event of extreme storm surge, sandbags won’t keep you high and dry, former Federal Emergency Management Agency Craig Fugate told the Tampa Bay Times before Hurricane Irma. If you’re planning to spend hours waiting in line for just a few sandbags to put in front of your front door, it might not be worth it.

What about shelters?

So far no evacuation orders have been issued, but click here to make sure you know where emergency shelters are located.

What if I know someone with special needs?

The Florida Division of Emergency Management and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities recommend having a plan in place.

“Individuals should ensure they have all their required medication and supplies,” Melanie Etters with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities said. “It is important for every person, including those with disabilities, to have an emergency plan.”

Florida also has a statewide special needs registry. Register here. This does not automatically qualify someone for a special needs shelter in the event of evacuation, but will ensure you receive information about evacuation and sheltering options.

After Hurricane Irma, many of the traffic lights were out. Is anyone planning for that?

In Pinellas County, the Sheriff’s Office now has power inverters that can connect to deputies’ cruisers, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. That means that traffic signals can be powered by the cruisers if the power goes out again, instead of relying on several deputies to direct traffic in dangerous intersections. “That’s a very significant improvement and one of those lessons learned from Irma,” Gualtieri said.

What if my TV or internet goes down during the storm?

Frontier Communications recommends that customers who have power but not their Frontier services call 1-800-921-8101 and follow the company on Facebook at “Frontier Communications” and on Twitter at @FrontierCorp. Frontier Voice service will work for at least eight hours on a fully charged reserve battery. The company set up a specific page for Hurricane Dorian impacts at https://frontier.com/resources/hurricane-dorian-impact. To see if there is a service outage at your home, visit https://frontier.com/helpcenter/categories/internet/troubleshooting/service-status. Spectrum customers can find out if they have a service outage by signing into their account at Spectrum.net and asking the virtual assistant, “Ask Spectrum.” The assistant can also help with other support questions. For updates, follow Spectrum on Twitter at @Ask_Spectrum and @GetSpectrum.

I bought a house and am supposed to close on it next week? Will I be able to?

Real estate reporter Susan Taylor Martin says: Probably not, unless you’re paying cash and don’t want any insurance. With Hurricane Dorian aimed at Florida, insurers have stopping issuing binders for both casualty and flood insurance. So unless you already have a binding commitment from an insurer, you’ll have to wait. "The trigger is that when they stick a name on a storm, that essentially stops binding of all insurance,'' said Vince Cassidy, president of Tampa-based Majesty Title Services. And even if you have a binder, you don’t want to close until the storm passes and you have a chance to assess damage, if any, to the property you’re buying.

How might Dorian affect air travel?

A spokeswoman for Tampa International Airport said travelers should expect at least some interruptions during the stormy holiday weekend. Tampa International will update customers through its Twitter account, @FlyTPA, and travelers are also encouraged to keep an eye on updates from airlines.

Some airlines, such as Frontier, Spirit, Southwest, American and United are offering to waive cancellation fees for travelers under certain circumstances. Check out this story, or contact your airline, for more information on that.

Friends from the East Coast of the state want to know if will be better to stay with us, even though we’re coastal/I have travel plans this weekend and want to know if it’s better to leave earlier or later/should I cancel my trip to Tampa?

While National Weather Service meteorologists refrain from giving specific advice, they did say the East Coast would likely be hit more directly and that the Tampa area could start to see heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, flooding and possible tornadoes starting possibly as early as Monday.

How do you report a power outage, and how do you know when your power will come back on?

Both major Tampa Bay utilities recommend alerting them if your home's power goes out. Duke Energy Florida customers can report an outage here, through the Duke Energy mobile app for iOS and Android or via text by texting "OUT" to 57801.

Duke's local outage map is here. For updates on power restoration, follow @DukeEnergy on Twitter and "Duke Energy" on Facebook.

Tampa Electric Co. customers can text “OUT” to 35069, use the “one-click” power outage report here or call the automated outage line at 877-588-1010. Its outage map can be found here. Customers can receive text updates on their home’s power outage by making sure a phone number is updated in their online account.

What do you do about natural gas for your home or business?

Tampa Electric’s sister company, TECO Peoples Gas, said to leave gas services on even if you evacuate. This helps keep adequate pressure in the piping, which can keep water out in the event of flooding.

“Natural gas service will likely operate uninterrupted throughout the storm,” Peoples Gas said in a release.

Feel free to turn the gas off to individual appliances by turning the gas supply valve near the appliance, but leave the main supply to your home or business alone. Only emergency personnel or one of its representatives should touch the main supply valve.

Some customers may find their gas was shut off by Peoples Gas or emergency workers for safety. If that’s the case at your home or business, call Peoples Gas at 877-832-6747 to have it turned back on.

What other resources should you prepare as the hurricane bears down on the area?

General storm preparedness rules of thumb say to have enough materials stocked up for you and every member of your family to remain comfortable for seven days in the event of a major hurricane. You should get prescriptions filled, have lots of cash on hand and make sure your car is filled with gas and your electronics have fully charged batteries.

For more on how to get ready for a storm check out the 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

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the 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

What is it like in local stores?

Our retail reporter Sara DiNatale toured local stores to see what they’re running out of as Dorian approaches. So far, Home Depot generators are scarce, Strawberry Pop Tarts are sold out of a local Walmart and worries about a water bottle shortage are overblown — if you know where to go.

What events have been cancelled or affected by the storm?

Florida State University’s opening football game has been moved from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Also, bad news for minor league baseball fans: The Florida State League’s playoffs have been cancelled.

The Pinellas Park Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch Bike Ride and 5K Run has been moved from Monday to Sunday.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be closed Sunday and Monday. Hillsborough County’s conservation parks have been closed until Monday to free up employees to help with sandbagging efforts.

We’re keeping an eye out for other cancellations. Check here for a full list and let us know if you’re affected by one.

Will the theme parks stay open? What about cruises?

As of now, no closures at parks have been announced, events editor Sharon Kennedy Wynne said, though Royal Carribbean and Disney Cruiselines have changed some routes to avoid the path of the storm.

At Legoland, if a hurricane warning is issued for Winter Haven or the city a guest is traveling from, the park “allows cancellation or changes to their tickets or vacation packages that were booked directly through the Legoland Florida website within seven days of their visit,” a spokeswoman said.

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have a “Peace of Mind” policy when a named storm threatens the parks. They will reschedule or refund vacation packages or park tickets without cancellation or change fees. The policy applies to packages and park tickets booked through SeaWorld Vacations, Busch Gardens Vacations, DiscoveryCove.com, SeaWorld.com, BuschGardens.com or the contact center.

Universal is continuing to monitor the situation. “At this time our park operations and hours are continuing as normal,” said Universal spokeswoman Alyson Lundell in a statement. "We have plans and procedures for serious weather that are time-proven and we will continue to make operating decisions as we learn more.”

Two years ago, Hurricane Irma prompted Disney World to close for only the sixth time in it’s almost 50-year history.

How might the storm affect the Rays?

Rays officials are monitoring Dorian and are in discussions with Major League Baseball about potential contingencies for the 10-game homestand that starts Friday.

Among the options could be postponing games and playing doubleheaders in advance of or after the storm comes through — or relocating the series with the Orioles slated to start Monday to Baltimore or a neutral site. No decisions are expected until the forecast track becomes clearer.

What scams should I look out for?

The aftermath of a storm frequently brings fake insurance robocalls, fake charities or people claiming to be part of FEMA.

Here are some places you can report suspicious activity or fraud:

Where did the name Dorian come from?

We can thank the World Meteorological Organization for that. The organization keeps a rotating list of names, which was once all female, but since 1979 included male names as well. You can read more about that here.

Why do our weather forecasters not show the jet stream position and speculate on how it will affect the path of a hurricane?

Jet streams are not typically associated with tropics, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.

Do you have to have a Tampabay.com subscription to read the Tampa Bay Times’ Hurricane Dorian coverage?

Nope. We’ve lifted our normal paywall for the hurricane coverage part of our website, so feel free to check back with us as we continuously update.

Read more:

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind

Times staff writers Susan Taylor Martin, Kathryn Varn, Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tom Tobin, Sara DiNatale, Rick Danielson, Caitlin Johnston, Malena Carollo, Dennis Joyce, Marc Topkin, Daniel Figueroa IV, Matt Baker, Paige Fry, C.T. Bowen, Michele Miller and Jack Evans contributed to this story.

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