Aug. 30 — 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 5 p.m. advisory that the storm was about 330 miles southeast of the Bahamas. The storm, packing maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, was moving northwest 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 maxiumum 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 cooled, up welled 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.
A Category 5 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of at least 157 mph.
On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency to give officials enough time to prepare for the storm and urged all Floridians on the state’s east coast to “have seven days of supplies, prepare their homes and follow the track closely.” Georgia followed suit on Thursday, declaring a state of emergency in 12 counties.
Recall that Hurricane Andrew, from August 1992 experienced rapid strengthening over the Gulf Stream prior to making landfall in South Florida. Andrew reached Category 5 status prior to making landfall.
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 was 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.
The International Space Station flew over Dorian on Thursday afternoon and caught video of the storm as it swirled northwest of Puerto Rico.
Moving into the warm waters of the southern Atlantic will provide the right conditions for Dorian to continue strengthening; AccuWeather 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.
“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.
Cruise and shipping interests from Florida to the waters just north and east of the Bahamas should prepare for hurricane conditions with mountainous seas and high winds.
“People on Abaco and Grand Bahama should prepare for major hurricane conditions to spread westward over the islands spanning Saturday night and Sunday,” Sosnowski said.
“While the exact track of Dorian will determine how severe conditions get on these two major islands in the chain, Cornishtown, Bahamas, near the northernmost point on Abaco could be a hard-hit area,” he added.
Some of the far northern islands of the Bahamas will be significantly impacted while the majority of the others will get barely a breeze and a little rain.
At this time, lesser impacts are expected across the southern half of the Bahamas, farther from the center of Dorian.
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.
As a precaution, officials have moved this Saturday’s Florida State/Boise State football game from Jacksonville, Florida, to Tallahassee, Florida, at noon the same day.