Dorian has strengthened into a hurricane near St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and could become a Category 3 storm when it makes its projected landfall in Florida late Sunday night or early Monday.
It is expected to further intensify into a major hurricane with maximum sustained winds up to 115 mph as it encounters favorable conditions over the open waters of the western Atlantic, according to the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. It is projected to make landfall somewhere along Florida's east coast late Sunday or early Monday.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say portions of the East Coast could receive 4-8 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 10 inches possible.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph as of 5 p.m., and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico will experience high winds, heavy rains and rough season through Thursday morning.
Very little wind shear, warm waters, and greater moisture will surround Dorian as it passes east of the Bahamas and approaches Florida, according to FPREN meteorologists. Tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph or higher could arrive as early as Saturday afternoon.
The center of the storm reformed farther to the north on Tuesday, which allowed it to avoid significant interaction with any large land areas. As a result, Dorian maintained its strength and is now poised to strengthen over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday.
The storm is forecast to be a Category 2 hurricane just offshore from Florida on Sunday evening. But the latest forecast discussion from the National Hurricane Center "is more aggressive than the previous one, and brings Dorian to Category 3 intensity by the end of the period."
“Dorian may briefly reach hurricane status before reaching Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. It could weaken briefly as it moves over those islands tonight,” FPREN meteorologist Ray Hawthorne said. “However, more and more of the models are forecasting an environment favorable for Dorian to strengthen into a hurricane before approaching Florida later on Sunday.”
Current projects by the hurricane center call for portions of Florida to receive 4-8 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 10 inches possible.
A strong ridge of high pressure is expected to build near the mid-Atlantic coast over the weekend, causing Dorian to turn toward more toward the west in the general direction of Florida, according to FPREN. The vast majority of the computer models forecast this scenario, but a few of the models forecast a weak trough over the Ohio Valley to disrupt the steering ridge. If this were to happen, Dorian could slow down on its approach to Florida and turn more toward the Carolinas.
As of 5 p.m., Hurricane Dorian had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, with higher gusts, and was located about 70 miles northwest of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was moving northwest at 14 mph.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands, where forecasters say 4-6 inches of rain – and 10 inches in isolated areas – will fall. The storms could produce life-threatening flash floods and rip currents.
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Erin is moving out into the open Atlantic off the North Carolina coast and is no threat to land, forecasters said.
Florida Public Radio Emergency Network meteorologist Jeff Huffman contributed to in this report.