As predicted, Hurricane Dorian is now a major hurricane, reaching Category 4 strength Friday night while slowly making its way west toward a wary Florida.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Dorian continued to intensify, reaching maximum sustained winds of 130 mph with higher gusts as of 8:30 p.m.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the northwestern Bahamas as the storm, located about 575 miles east of West Palm Beach, crawling along west-northwest at just 10 mph.
This motion is expected to continue Friday before Dorian is forecast to slowly make its way northwest and eventually to the west – and toward Florida -- throughout the weekend.
Observations show that an upper level high pressure center has begun to build, and this will turn Dorian on a more westward track. However, forecast guidance continues to suggest the high will weaken as Dorian nears the Florida peninsula. This will likely result in a slowing of the storm’s forward motion, delaying landfall until Tuesday. However, tropical storm force winds and outer rain bands could reach southeastern Florida as early as Sunday morning.
The latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center places landfall between the Space and Treasure Coasts on Tuesday, according to Megan Borowski, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
Dorian will then likely turn slowly northward, and potentially parallel the Florida Atlantic coastline. The storm’s slow motion means that many locations will receive surge, strong winds, and torrential rain for many hours. If Dorian moves inland, fresh water flooding and tropical storm force winds will become serious threats. These hazards may last into the latter part of the week in parts of the state, particularly the peninsula.
But the chances of these winds are almost as high from the upper Keys to the Daytona Beach area as the forecast cone continues to cover much of Florida.
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Forecasters remain concerned over the slow pace that Dorian is making as it gains strength over the warm Atlantic waters.
“The hurricane is moving at 12 mph, but may be moving at half that speed over the weekend,” Hawthorne said. “The environment is forecast to be nearly ideal for strengthening and Dorian will almost certainly be at Category 4 strength as it gets closer to Florida.”
The latest projections from hurricane center forecasters have Dorian reaching Category 3 status as soon as Friday and climbing to Category 4 with winds topping out at 140 mph ahead of the projected landfall.
“The biggest concern will be Dorian's slow motion when it is near Florida, placing some areas of the state at an increasing risk of a prolonged, drawn-out event of strong winds, dangerous storm surge, and heavy rainfall,” according to hurricane center’s Friday morning forecast discussion.
Forecasters project rainfall totals of 6-12 inches across the state into the middle of next week, with isolated totals of up to 15 inches. These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and dangerous storm surge along Florida’s east coast.