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Category 4 Dorian Remains Dangerous Threat To Florida Even With Shifting Track

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Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

Hurricane Dorian is moving closer to the northwest Bahamas, still an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm.

While the Tampa Bay area is no longer in its path, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Dorian was located at 11 p.m. Saturday about 125 miles east of Great Abaco Island, about 310 miles east of West Palm Beach.

The storm is packing top sustained winds of 150 mph.

Forecasters at the Miami-based center say the core of Dorian should be near or over parts of the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday and then move closer to Florida's east coast late Monday through Tuesday.

The Tampa Bay area as well as parts of South Florida are no longer in the hurricane’s forecasted path.

Despite the decreased danger to most of Florida’s peninsula, a tropical storm watch was issued for the east of Florida from Deerfield Beach north to Sebastian Inlet on Saturday afternoon. The Hurricane Center advisory said life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are still possible along portions of the Florida east coast by the early to middle part of next week.

The 11 p.m. advisory said on this track, the core of Dorian should be near or over portions of the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday, and move closer to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday.

Florida Public Media Emergency Network meteorologist Ray Hawthorne says that while a change in the track may lessen the severity of weather conditions over the state, Dorian will become large enough for residents along the Atlantic coast to feel the effects.

“Regardless of the exact track, rough seas, rip currents, and coastal flooding from high astronomical tides and the hurricane will be an issue just about everywhere along the east coast,” he said. “If Dorian comes close enough, tropical storm force winds are likely to start from West Palm Beach to the Space coast on Monday, and from Daytona to Jacksonville on Tuesday.”

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Three to six inches of rain may occur near the east coast, even if the storm stays just offshore, he said.

Hawthorne says a track farther to the east may lower the expected winds and rain amounts even more, but residents should monitor forecasts for future changes.

Dorian's powerful pace is expected to continue as it closes in on the state early Tuesday morning. It did so Saturday, inching closer to Category 5 status as of 11 p.m., even though the latest forecast tracks from the National Hurricane Center have shifted west, with the center of the storm remaining just of Florida’s east coast.

WEATHER: Storm track, hourly outlooks, 7-day forecasts and weather alerts

As of Saturday at 11 p.m., maximum sustained winds were at 150 mph with higher gusts, and forecasters say it could further strengthen in the next 24 hours. Dorian was located about 310 miles east of West Palm Beach and moving west but slowing significantly, at just 8 mph.
 
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center, with tropical-storm-force winds at 115 miles out.

Seasonably warm ocean temperatures and light wind shear — both of which are normally needed for intense hurricanes — are expected to fuel the storm for several more days, according to Hawthorne.

A ridge of high pressure that is steering the Dorian is forecast to keep pushing it west this weekend toward the northwestern Bahamas, according to Hawthorne. But it is forecast to be much weaker by Monday, resulting in  Dorian slowing or stalling Monday off the Florida coast before a turn to the north likely  Tuesday or Wednesday.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Dorian stories from WUSF and throughout the state

Portions of South Florida and the Space Coast could experience tropical storm-force winds on Monday, followed by Daytona Beach to the north on Tuesday. Hurricane-force winds are less likely if the storm continues to track off-shore, Hawthorne said, and winds might not reach tropical storm force winds west of I-95.

However, Hawthorne said coastal flooding could happen, regardless of how close Dorian gets to the state. The new moon is causing high astronomical tides during the times of high tide. The National Weather Service in Jacksonville has issued Coastal Flood Advisories. Tidal departures may reach 1 to 2 feet above normal this weekend.

ALERTS: Download the Florida Storms app to get severe weather notifications

In addition, early Saturday, portions of southwest Florida -- including parts of Hendry, Glades and inland  Collier counties -- have a 40-60 percent chance of experiencing tropical-storm winds.
 
Projections from FPREN meteoroligists call for Melbourne to reach 5-10 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 12 inches -- and possibly 18 inches -- that would result in potential life-threatening floods. The risk of dangerous storm surge is increasing along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts during the middle of next week.
 
Florida Public Radio Emergency Network meteorologists Ray Hawthorne and Megan Borowski contributed to this report.