Florida in bullseye: Dorian poised to hit US as Category 4 hurricane
As Dorian spun into the warm, open waters of the Atlantic Thursday, concern grew about the storm’s projected path towards the United States, where it could strike as a major hurricane over the upcoming holiday weekend.
The National Hurricane Center said during its 11 a.m. advisory that the storm was about 220 miles north-northwest of San Juan and 370 miles east-southeast of the Bahamas. The storm, still packing maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, was moving at 13 mph as it entered the open — and warmer — waters of the southern Atlantic.
As Dorian, the second hurricane of the Atlantic season, tracks north of the Bahamas later this week, it is expected to reach Category 4 hurricane strength before approaching the southeastern United States coast.
A major hurricane has the strength of a Category 3 or greater. A Category 4 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of at least 130 mph.
“The strengthening to a major hurricane is projected to occur while making a more westward turn toward the northern Bahamas this weekend,” According to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
“With Dorian forecast to pass over extremely warm water of the Gulf Stream, where the water is rapidly replaced by more warm water, you have to be concerned that a Category 5 storm is on the table before reaching the U.S. coast,” Sosnowski said.
The storm made a shift to the north on Wednesday causing its center to regenerate northeast of Puerto Rico and putting forecasters on alert for development of the Atlantic’s first major hurricane of the 2019 season.
The hurricane brought waves of heavy rain to Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands on Wednesday after it battered portions of the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday. While Dorian’s eye wasn’t yet visible on satellite imagery Wednesday afternoon, it w as easy to spot in a radar loop showing the storm passing by Puerto Rico.
On Wednesday evening, lightning was detected in the eye of Hurricane Dorian by the GOES-16 weather satellite as it passed northeast of Puerto Rico. When lightning is detected in the eye of a hurricane, it is usually an indication of rapid strengthening.
Moving into the warm waters of the southern Atlantic will provide the right conditions for Dorian to continue strengthening; meteorologists are forecasting Dorian to intensify into a major hurricane before making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane. Water temperatures in the Atlantic range from 84-86 degrees Fahrenheit along Dorian’s projected path.
A Category 5 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of at least 157 mph.
“Dorian shifted to the north as it traveled over warm open waters, allowing it to undergo rapid strengthening,” said AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski of the storm’s rapid intensification.
As this happened the storm moved away from the core of a vast area of dry air over the central Caribbean.
The longer the amount of time the tropical system spends over the warm, open waters of the Atlantic, away from major land areas, the greater the chance of significant strengthening.
With several days over the open waters of the Atlantic still to go, the exact track of Dorian for the weekend and beyond is not set in stone.
“A very small fluctuation in the overall weather pattern will have a large influence in where Dorian ultimately tracks and how it impacts the continental U.S.,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty.
“If Dorian does slow and turn to the north, impacts in the Carolinas would be much more significant while Florida would be spared from major damage,” Douty added.
“Because of the wide range of possibilities, the wind, surge and rainfall impacts expected from Dorian over the northern Bahamas and Florida are highly uncertain at this point,” added Kottlowski.
At this time, AccuWeather believes a landfall over the middle of the Atlantic coast of Florida is most likely.
By the time Dorian reaches the U.S., the overall size of the storm may be somewhat larger and its impact will reach farther, when compared to the compact system in the Caribbean. This could bring a wider range of impacts from southern Florida to the Georgia and South Carolina coastlines.