Hurricane Dorian strengthened overnight as predicted, and Florida is keeping a wary eye on a storm that is expected to reach major hurricane status as soon as Friday before making a slow slog through the state.
Dorian grew into a Category 2 storm late Thursday night, according to the National Hurricane Center, and as of 11 a.m., continued to maintain maximum sustained winds of 110 mph with higher gusts.
A hurricane watch has been issued for the northwestern Bahamas as the storm, located about 480 miles east of the northwestern Bahamas, is now moving northwest at a slightly slower 12 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.
A high pressure ridge over the Mid Atlantic states is forecast to turn Dorian westward toward Florida, but there are signs the ridge will weaken late Sunday and Monday, according to Ray Hawthorne, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. This will cause the hurricane to slow down its forward motion as it approaches the east coast of Florida.
The latest forecast calls for the storm to most likely make landfall near the Treasure Coast late Monday night, Hawthorne said. But its first outer bands may arrive on Sunday on the coast with tropical storm force winds, with the highest probability of those winds in Martin and Palm Beach counties, according the hurricane center.
But the chances of these winds are almost as high from the upper Keys to the Daytona Beach area, Hawthorne said, as the forecast cone continues to cover much of Florida.
EVACUATION MAPS: Searchable county-by-county evacuation zones
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.