Hurricane Dorian shifts toward Carolinas, with Florida forecast to avoid direct hit
Hurricane Dorian strengthened and shifted slightly early Saturday, setting it on course to potentially miss a direct hit with Florida and make landfall in the Carolinas.
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is warning residents to remain vigilant, cautioning that the Category 4 storm could still change course again and that, even if it does not make landfall in the state, it could bring dangerous storm surges and flooding.
“As you’re looking at these forecasts, a bump in one direction or the other could have really significant ramifications in terms of impact,” DeSantis said at a Saturday morning news conference. "If it bumps just a little west, then you're looking at really, really significant impacts."
Dorian's maximum sustained winds increased to nearly 150 miles per hour with even higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning. That brings it close to a Category 5 level storm, defined as having winds 157 miles per hour or higher.
The northwestern Bahamas are under a hurricane warning, with the storm expected to go near or over that region Sunday. A prolonged period of life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds are expected in parts of this area.
“Heavy rains, capable of life-threatening flash floods are expected over portions of the Bahamas and coastal sections of the southeastern United States this weekend through much of next week,” the hurricane center said.
Dorian became a potentially devastating Category 4 storm Friday evening as it continued to churn in the Atlantic Ocean on its course to the southeastern United States early next week.
The National Hurricane Center announced early Saturday that "there's been a notable change overnight to the forecast of Dorian after Tuesday" with its veering away from Florida, but the stressed that the shift does not rule out the possibility of the storm making landfall on the Sunshine State's coast.
"It’s important to stress that this doesn’t paint Florida as out of the woods yet," said Kathryn Prociv, a meteorologist for NBC News. "Florida is still very much in the red zone."
Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are now at risk of strong winds and dangerous storm surge in the middle of next week.
Dorian will continue westward through the weekend but is then forecast to turn northward as it approaches the east coast of Florida early next week, the center said. It will bring "risks of life-threatening storm surge, devastating hurricane-force winds, heavy rainfall and flooding along its path."
The latest forecast track has narrowed the "Cone of Concern," as Miami-Dade County no longer faces the threat of the center of the hurricane. Parts of Broward County, including Fort Lauderdale, remain in the possible path of a Dorian landfall, according to the center.
The hurricane is forecast to be near Florida's east coast late Monday, the hurricane center said.
More than 200 flights had been cancelled as of Saturday. Orlando International Airport cancelled 129 flights scheduled to arrive and depart Sunday.
President Donald Trump said he would discuss possible evacuations Sunday in a scheduled meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.
"We were thinking about Florida evacuations, but it’s a little bit too soon," Trump said. "We’ll probably have to make that determination on Sunday."
Trump told reporters Friday as he prepared to board Marine One to a weekend trip to Camp David that he feared for the entire state of Florida, and Georgia was possibly "in this path also."
He said his own Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, was a "dead center" target of Dorian.
"Look," he said, "Mar-a-Lago can handle itself. It’s a very powerful place."
Trump tried to reassure the nation that federal officials were prepared for the worst. "We have FEMA, we have first responders, we have tremendous law enforcement," he said.
The National Hurricane Center said life-threatening storm surge would raise water levels as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide in parts of the northwestern Bahamas, with "large and destructive waves" near the coast.
The storm was expected to produce 10 to 15 inches of rain, with isolated areas receiving as 20 inches in the northwestern Bahamas. Coastal sections of the southeastern United States were forecast to get 6 to 12 inches of rain, with isolated area getting up to 18 inches.
"This rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods," the center said.
Hurricane conditions were possible in the Bahamas by Sunday, the center said.
"It's going to be this big, bad, intense storm — wherever it hits, it's going to do catastrophic wind damage," said Bill Karins, a meteorologist for NBC News.