Hurricane Dorian on September 2. | NOAA/NESDIS/STAR

A worst-case scenario is playing out the Bahamas. Florida and the Southeast US may be spared the worst. But uncertainties remain.

On Monday, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas as an incredibly powerful Category 5 hurricane, with howling winds in excess of 185 mph and with gusts up to 220 mph. The storm brought with it a surge — coastal flooding — of 18-to-23 feet above normal tide.

Dorian is estimated to be the second-most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, and ties the record for the most powerful storm to make landfall, according to the National Weather Service. Preliminary reports from the Abacos Islands show extreme devastation.

The storm weakened slightly and was (very slowly) moving through Grand Bahama Island on Monday, with winds gusting over 200 mph and 18 to 23 feet of coastal flooding. Plus, the forward motion of the storm nearly stalled, moving west at just 1 mph. The slower a storm moves, the more time it has to destroy communities in its path. It’s a worst-case scenario for a hurricane.

“A prolonged period of catastrophic winds and storm surge will continue to affect Grand Bahama Island through today and tonight,” the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned. “Everyone there should take immediate shelter and not venture into the eye.”

As of late Monday morning, the storm was sustaining 155 mph winds, making it an extremely dangerous Category 4 “major” hurricane. (Major hurricanes are Category 3 and higher.) Winds near that intensity have the power to strip houses of their roofs, uproot trees, and destroy structures entirely.

A chart describing storms labeled Category 1 (winds up to 95 miles per hour, isolated injuries) through Category 5 (winds above 155 mph, extreme flooding).Zachary Crockett/Vox

After it passes through the Bahamas, the storm’s track grows more uncertain. “The hurricane will then move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late tonight through Wednesday evening and then move dangerously close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday,” the NHC reports.

The storm is not currently expected to make landfall in Florida, but instead, to stay uncomfortably close offshore. However, the NHC warns that even small changes to the forecast can bring intensely dangerous conditions to the coast. Right now, much of Florida’s Atlantic coast is under a hurricane warning or a watch, meaning hurricane conditions are imminent or expected. The hurricane is expected to be just offshore of Florida’s coast by early Tuesday.

“Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are possible along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week, as only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the coast,” the NHC advises. “Residents should listen to advice given by local emergency officials.”

Dorian remaining off the coasts would still present a dangerous situation. Dorian’s hurricane-force winds extend 45 miles outward from its eye, bringing with them rough surf, coastal flooding, high winds, and rain. Tropical storm-force winds extend 140 miles from the center.

Again, it’s possible Dorian could make landfall on the US East Coast. So pay attention to reports. To prepare, some counties along the Florida coast have issued, or may issue, evacuation orders for certain residents. You can see all of those orders here. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered evacuations for six coastal counties. And evacuations have also been ordered in South Carolina as well.

Here’s the latest forecast map from the NHC. As you can see, Dorian may impact Georgia and the Carolinas as a major hurricane before heading farther up the coast.

But the risks of a major hurricane extend well beyond the wind. The storm could bring several inches of rain or more for parts of Florida and the Southeast. Here’s the latest rain forecast:


The deadliest aspect of a hurricane tends to be storm surge (flooding caused by seawater pushed onshore by the hurricane’s winds). Right now, the NHC is forecasting four-to-seven feet of storm surge along the Florida coast. Specifically:

Lantana to the Mouth of the St. Mary’s River…4 to 7 ft

North of Deerfield Beach to Lantana…2 to 4 ft

“The surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves,” the NHC warns. “Surge-related flooding depends on the how close the center of Dorian comes to the Florida east coast, and can vary greatly over short distances.”

Here are the key messages the National Hurricane Center wants the public to know:

1. A prolonged period of catastrophic winds and storm surge will continue to affect Grand Bahama Island through today and tonight. Everyone there should remain in shelter and not venture into the eye.

2. Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast and Georgia coast, regardless of the exact track of Dorian’s center. Water levels could begin to rise well in advance of the arrival of strong winds. Residents in these areas should follow advice given by local emergency officials.

3. The risk of life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds continues to increase along the coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina. Residents in these areas should follow advice given by local emergency officials.

4. Heavy rains, capable of producing life-threatening flash floods, are expected over northern portions of the Bahamas and coastal sections of the Southeast and lower Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States into Friday.

Remember: Forecasts can change. But for many communities, there’s still time to prepare.

How to follow Dorian:

  • The National Hurricane Center has a page updating every few hours with the latest watches and warnings for Dorian. Check it out.
  • Follow the National Hurricane Center on Twitter.
  • Follow the Capital Weather Gang’s Twitter account. These folks tend to live-tweet storm updates.
  • Here’s a Twitter list of weather experts, who will give you up-to-the-second forecasts and warnings.

Author: Brian Resnick

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