Dorian now strongest hurricane for NW Bahamas; hurricane watches issued along FL coast

Hurricane Dorian’s almost 180-mph sustained winds are bringing “catastrophic conditions” to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said, calling it possibly the strongest hurricane to hit the Bahamas in modern history.

With gusts over 200 mph, Dorian has become “the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas,” the center said. Forecasters predict the Category 5 storm will remain over the Bahamas into Monday.

The storm is also growing, with hurricane-force winds now extending 45 miles from its eye, meteorologists said.

“This is a life-threatening situation. Residents there should take immediate shelter,” the center said Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, as the hurricane’s path shifts slightly, areas of Florida’s southeast coast are back in the cone

Storm surge watches and hurricane watches have now been issued for Florida’s Indian River, Martin, Northern Brevard, Southern Brevard and St. Lucie counties.

A Tropical Storm Watch has also been issued for Okeechobee and Osceola counties, according to the National Weather Service.

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As of 11 a.m. ET, the storm was about 205 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida. Already, mandatory evacuations have been ordered for residents living in mobile homes or in low-lying areas in Palm Beach, Martin and Brevard counties, officials said. The Palm Beach and Martin county evacuations will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, and the Brevard County evacuations are set to start Monday morning.

Hurricane and storm surge watches have been issued for Florida’s east coast, from Deerfield Beach to the Brevard-Volusia County line, where the water could reach up to 7 feet, forecasters say.

Storm surge watches are issued when “there is a possibility of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, in the indicated locations during the next 48 hours,” the center said.

Dorian is moving to the west at 7 mph and is expected to strike Grand Bahama, the northernmost island in the archipelago, late Sunday or early Monday, forecasters say.

The northwestern Bahamas are under a hurricane warning, which means “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the hurricane center said.

The northern Bahamas were already witnessing Dorian’s strength, with heavy wind and rain pounding the islands. Conditions are expected to grow only worse as Dorian stalls over the Bahamas, forecasters say. Some models forecast that it could stay for 24 hours or longer.

Once the storm finishes deluging the Bahamas it is expected to head toward Florida, but exactly where (or if) it will hit the US East Coast remains unclear.

Key developments

• As of 8 a.m. ET Sunday, a hurricane warning was in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, except for Andros Island, which is under hurricane watch.

• Life-threatening storm surges of 18 to 23 feet could crash into the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, the hurricane center said.

• The northwestern Bahamas also could get 12 to 30 inches of rain, the hurricane center said.

• Dorian is expected to move across the Bahamas slowly, creating life-threatening conditions as “rain, winds and storm surge (keep) piling up,” hurricane center Director Ken Graham said Saturday.

• Dorian’s forecast track has shifted east since Friday, making a landfall in Florida less likely but not out of the question.

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Where will Dorian go next?

Hurricane Dorian has been threatening to strike the US mainland, but there is still a lot of uncertainty on when and where it will make landfall.

The storm had been projected to reach Florida for Labor Day weekend, but current forecasts have it turning north Monday evening. The storm is predicted to ride along the Florida, Georgia and Carolina coasts, according to meteorologists.

Many models show the storm staying just off Florida’s coast Tuesday and then skirting the coasts of Georgia and North and South Carolina.

Still, a major hurricane hovering just off the coast could cause serious damage.

“This is a serious storm. You can’t take your eye off it. you have to make preparations now. Again, it’s going to move up the coast into Georgia and the Carolina. This will be with us until probably … Friday,” Peter Gaynor, acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN on Sunday.

With wind and rain possible without direct landfall, many Florida residents are still preparing and Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced voluntary evacuations for Osceola County, Glades, Hendry and Indian River counties, as well as in parts of Palm Beach County that are not under mandatory evacuation orders.

Pete Werner said he is riding out the storm at home in Orlando but is sending his mother to Walt Disney World. He said it’s the “safest place” to be in Central Florida during a hurricane.

“Their hotels are built to exceed Florida building codes so they’re built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane,” he said. “It’s a self-contained city.”

Werner said he didn’t want his 88-year-old mother to be sitting in the heat if she loses power.

“I’d rather her ride it out in luxury over at the BoardWalk,” he said, referring to the Disney resort.

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