Floridians should keep a close eye on Hurricane Dorian as it moves north toward the Sunshine State. While the exact path is uncertain, the latest models predict Dorian will make landfall on the state’s east coast early Monday as a major Category 3 hurricane, and Tampa Bay is expected to experience high winds and plenty of rain. Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency along the east coast and inland to Orlando, and this is the time for all Floridians to be alert and prepare as we approach the Labor Day weekend.
Dorian swept across the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, with tropical-storm force winds extending outward up to 80 miles. It was moving northwest and expected to reach the Turks and Caicos Thursday before turning west near the Bahamas on Friday and on toward Florida’s east coast.
The National Hurricane Center adjusted its forecast track slightly northward on Wednesday, extending the cone for potential landfall anywhere from South Florida to the South Carolina coast by early Monday. Forecasters said Dorian had become better organized, and while still compact, the storm was expected to intensify and increase in size as it moves across warm open waters on a path toward the southeast U.S. This poses a threat to millions across Florida communities already saturated with heavy summer rains.
Longtime Floridians know not to focus on spaghetti models forecasting the storm’s path. As the hurricane center reminded Wednesday, the average five-day track error is about 200 miles. That certainly should be cause for playing it safe. Officials also have warned about uncertainty with Dorian, pointing out a higher-than-usual spread between the forecasting models. Already, the hurricane center has warned that Florida faces heavy rains this week and next, the possibility of tropical-storm force winds by Saturday and an increased threat of dangerous storm surge in advance of Dorian’s arrival.
As we enter the holiday weekend, Floridians should use the time to shop, prepare and check their hurricane plans. The roads will be crowded enough with holiday travel. Gas up and get supplies early. Double check evacuation zones and shelters. Don’t forget about the pets and neighbors. A full checklist is available at the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s website. Regardless of where Dorian ends up, we are entering the brunt of hurricane season, and these preparations will be a smart investment of time.
This storm marks the first significant test for DeSantis and his emergency management team. The governor has been briefed by the state’s disaster chief and urged east coast residents in a tweet Wednesday to gather seven days’ worth of supplies. The state’s major electric utilities, which took days to restore power to millions of residents following Hurricane Irma in 2017, also should be better prepared this time.
The days ahead could be especially tough for millions of Floridians and our Caribbean neighbors, and there will be time after the storm passes to channel the nation’s resources and individual acts of charity. For now the focus should be on limiting the risks to lives, property and public health - and that starts with being tuned in and responsible enough to prepare. Dorian may be headed toward the east coast now, but Tampa Bay should be prepared as well to handle the wind and rain.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news