September 1, 2019

Hurricane Warnings For Florida As Hurricane Dorian Hits Bahamas With 185 MPH Winds

Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Great Abaco in The Bahamas on Sunday afternoon with 185 MPH winds, making it the strongest storm to ever hit the northwestern Bahamas and one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded at landfall in the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Hurricane Center warned of "catastrophic" damage on Great Abaco from the storm's scale-topping winds—which could gust as high as 220 MPH (!)—as well as a storm surge that could exceed 20 feet above ground level. The storm will slowly traverse the northwestern Bahamas over the next couple of days as it moves toward Florida and the southeastern United States.

Near-Record Intensity

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Hurricane Dorian now ranks among the top-five most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the strongest ever recorded around the world. Dorian is also one of the strongest hurricanes on record at landfall anywhere on Earth, and tied for the strongest landfall in the Atlantic basin alongside the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.

It's possible that Hurricane Dorian's strongest winds stayed over the water, but images that filtered out of Marsh Harbour when the eye passed overhead were not encouraging. Communities on Great Abaco that experienced the storm's eyewall likely experienced category five winds for a time before the eye passed overhead.

What's truly remarkable from a meteorological standpoint is how stable this hurricane has been for the past couple of days. Most major hurricanes, especially ones that grow this strong, undergo an eyewall replacement cycle at some point. I even wrote a post at Forbes the other day about how we should expect the storm's intensity to fluctuate as it sheds and regenerates eyes. (Oops.) Even the storm's interaction with the low-lying Bahamian terrain didn't affect the storm's structure in any discernible way on Sunday afternoon. The eye remained steady and stable as it crossed Great Abaco.

There are signs that an eyewall replacement cycle could occur tonight. If that happens, the storm's maximum sustained winds will drop and its pressure will rise. However, storms can regain strength after an eyewall replacement cycle, and this process can cause the storm's wind field to expand. An expanded wind field could put more of the coast at risk for dangerous conditions as the storm passes through this week.

Current Forecast

The National Hurricane Center's forecast at 5:00 PM EDT shows the core of a category four hurricane coming within a few dozen miles of Florida's east coast on or about Tuesday. This is a very close call for the state, and it won't take much of a westward nudge to bring extremely dangerous conditions onshore.

The timing of the recurve will determine how bad things get in Florida and the Carolinas later this week. Even an all-offshore track will likely bring hazardous conditions to coastal communities.

The Bahamas Still Have The Storm Through Tuesday

Folks on Great Abaco today and Grand Bahama tomorrow are going through something that few people have ever experienced.

This hurricane is just crawling along right now, moving west across Great Abaco at only 5 MPH. This slow forward motion will probably get even slower as it approaches Grand Bahama tonight and Monday. Hurricane force winds probably won't clear The Bahamas until daytime on Tuesday.

Grand Bahama—home to the city of Freeport—is next in line for the most intense portion of Dorian's eyewall. Storm surge flooding will grow more intense as the eyewall approaches the island tonight. The storm's predicted slowdown could expose Freeport to hurricane force winds for a period of 24 hours. There aren't many structures that can withstand such a long beating without serious damage or total failure.

Hurricane Warnings In Effect In Florida

Hurricane warnings are now in effect for portions of Florida's east coast as Hurricane Dorian makes its uncertain turn over The Bahamas. Models are still a bit wishy-washy on how soon the storm will curve to the north. An earlier curve will spare Florida from the worst conditions, while a later curve will bring the core of the storm closer to shore and expose the state's east coast to high winds, heavy rain, and coastal flooding from a storm surge.

The National Hurricane Center's forecast at 5:00 PM EDT on Sunday shows Dorian's core coming extremely close to the coast as it makes its slow recurve toward the north early next week. A small westward nudge in the track would bring extremely dangerous conditions very close to land.

Here are the impacts in the warned areas based on the NHC's latest advisory. These impacts could (and probably will) change as the forecast track and timing are updated over the next few days.

STORM SURGE: A storm surge of 4-7 feet is possible if onshore hurricane force winds coincide with high tide along the coast from north of Boynton Beach, Florida, up to Cape Canaveral. This risk includes West Palm Beach, Jupiter, Melbourne, and the Kennedy Space Center.

WIND: Hurricane force winds are possible along and near the coast for a period of time on Tuesday. Winds in excess of 74 MPH could lead to power outages, downed trees, flying debris, and structural damage. Tropical storm force winds are possible even farther inland, which could also lead to downed trees and power lines.

HEAVY RAIN: 3-6 inches of rain are possible near the coast, which could lead to flash flooding. Training rain bands could result in higher totals, which would increase the threat for flash flooding. More than half of all deaths in tropical cyclones are the result of freshwater flooding, and most of those fatalities are drivers who drove through flooded roadways.

There's no "make sure you're ready" message here. Folks in Florida should've been prepared for the storm a couple of days ago, and by the sound of it, most people did get prepared. I just hope they didn't chow through their supplies before the storm had a chance to pass by.

Georgia And Carolinas At Risk By Midweek

If you live along or near the southeastern coast—I'm looking at you, friends in Savannah, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Wilmington—you need to prepare for the potential for hurricane conditions next week. Make sure you've got food, water, and batteries enough to get through power outages. If the storm stays on its predicted track, it looks like northeastern South Carolina and coastal North Carolina could experience a period of hurricane conditions toward the end of the week.

We'll know more about specifics here in a couple of days.

[Top Image: NOAA]

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.