Hurricane Dorian became an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane late Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The center’s latest alert is based on reports from hurricane hunter aircraft flown by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Dorian’s maximum sustained wind speeds have increased to 140 mph. The storm’s status means it’s considered a “major” hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, capable of causing “catastrophic damage” to homes, uprooting trees, downing power lines and rendering areas uninhabitable for weeks or months.
All of Florida is under a state of emergency and authorities are urging residents to stockpile a week’s worth of food and supplies, with the governor warning that the storm could be a “multi-day” event.
“It’s going to impact the entirety of Florida, and residents need to be prepared,” Acting Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor said Friday morning on CNN.
“The clock is ticking right now,” he added. “Don’t waste time. Prepare yourself and your family.”
The core of the storm is due to move over the Atlantic, north of the southeastern and central Bahamas Friday night and Saturday, be near or over the northwestern Bahamas Sunday and be near Florida’s east coast late Monday, according to the hurricane center. Dorian is expected to strengthen overnight into Saturday.
“Although fluctuations in intensity are possible early next week, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next few days,” the hurricane center’s alert read.
President Donald Trump said he will attend a briefing Sunday at FEMA headquarters in Washington at 12:30 p.m. ET. He said the briefing will be roughly 24 hours before storm is expected to hit, and they will likely make decisions about whether to evacuate parts of Florida then.
Trump said in a video posted to Twitter that Dorian looks like it “can be an absolute monster.”
“We’re ready, we have the best people in the world ready,” he said in the video. “All indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big. Somebody said bigger, or at least as big, as (Hurricane) Andrew.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Friday saying he was sending an Incident Management Team of 26 personnel to Florida. The team will leave for Tallahassee Sunday, Cuomo said, and state police are ready “to be packed into trucks” if needed.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will do everything we can to help during these difficult times. To our friends and neighbors in Florida: stay safe,” according to his statement.
The storm is ‘extremely dangerous,’ hurricane center says
Dorian is due to slow its forward speed in the coming days, allowing it to gain intensity over warm Caribbean waters and fuel the heavy rains, damaging wind and storm surge it’s expected to deliver, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the northwestern Bahamas — except for Andros Island, where a hurricane watch remains in effect — where Dorian is expected to hit Sunday, the hurricane center said. A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected, whereas a watch means hurricane conditions are possible.
In the meantime, Dorian is expected to “remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane,” the center said, with potentially “life-threatening storm surge” as high as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels.
It is then forecast to roar toward the US mainland Monday evening into Tuesday morning, though experts warn that forecasts are subject to change.
Regardless, residents across the state should be prepared, CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said. “We’ve been saying ‘all of Florida’ for a reason.”
As of Friday afternoon, the storm’s track indicated a landfall could occur somewhere in the southern half of Florida, Chinchar said.
“But that could change,” she warned, “as well as the landfall time, which right now is still looking at late Monday night into early Tuesday morning.”
Another question is when the storm will deviate from its current northwest track and shift north, Chinchar said. That shift in direction could indicate what kind of impact, if any, will be seen along Florida’s west coast and in the Panhandle.
“There’s still a lot of questions there, but the fact remains — the potential is still there,” Chinchar said. “So, you need to plan accordingly.”
Florida residents are stocking up
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that President Trump had approved a federal emergency declaration for his state. The governor had previously declared a state of emergency for all 67 Florida counties.
The state has 819,000 gallons of water and 1.8 million meals ready for distribution, DeSantis said Friday.
“It is imperative that all Floridians and their families take Hurricane Dorian seriously,” DeSantis said. “The time to prepare diminishes by the hour, particularly because we are still uncertain of where it will make landfall. Everyone should have seven days of food, water and medicine in preparation for this storm. Additionally, all residents need to be prepared to evacuate, should that be required.”
DeSantis said the Florida Department of Transportation will lift tolls to affected areas once a local evacuation is ordered. Uber has committed to providing rides to shelters when they begin opening, he said.
More than 30 school districts have announced Tuesday closures. The Florida Department of Education will be posting updated information regarding school closures on its website.
Additionally, more than 30 colleges/universities — including Florida State University and Florida A&M University — have announced closures to their satellite, regional or main campuses.
Florida’s Highway Patrol will begin escorting fuel trucks to boost the volume that can be brought into the state, DeSantis said Friday. Service and truck rates for fuel trucks also have been waived.
About 2,000 National Guard troops will be mobilized Friday, Maj. Gen. James Eifert said in a news conference. That number could double by the end of Saturday, he said.
“We’re prepared to respond,” Eifert said. “We have 12,000 soldiers and airmen in the state and every one of them that is able and in the state, not deployed, will be ready to step up as needed.”
Florida residents have been stocking up on gas and food for a stormy weekend, and officials are urging everyone to be prepared.
“Get water, get gas, get cash out of the ATMs,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James. “The more we hear about this storm, it sounds like a serious one.”
Deborah Thomas, 69, was preparing for the storm Friday at a Home Depot in West Palm Beach when she broke down in tears with worry over how her dog and her pigs would survive the storm.
“I live in a mobile home, so I stand to be homeless,” she told CNN. “But that is not what worries me. I have animals. I can replace my home, but I can’t replace my animals.”
Thomas plans to hole up with her dog at her daughter’s home, where they’ve stocked plenty of water, she told CNN. Even if evacuation orders come down, Thomas doesn’t plan to leave, she said, even though Dorian has her mind on Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which left Homestead, Florida, looking like an atomic bomb had gone off.
With Dorian scheduled to arrive in time for Labor Day, major airlines have offered waivers for flights to Florida, Georgia and the Caribbean. Officials with the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority announced that Orlando International Airport would cease operations Monday at 2 a.m.
Tourist areas were emptying out Thursday, CNN affiliate WFLA reported.
“We usually get hundreds of visitors every day, and it’s just been one of those days that drives everyone away. It’s a gorgeous day but the hurricane is just going to kill it all,” Jason Pun, owner of a Cocoa Beach restaurant, told the station.
Big storm, big response
Dorian warrants a multibillion-dollar price tag, FEMA associate administrator Jeffrey Byard told reporters Thursday.
“This is going to be a big storm. We’re prepared for a big response,” he said.
Since Dorian had minimal impact on Puerto Rico, the agency is shifting staff from the island to Florida in preparation.
Dorian already has claimed the title of strongest storm so far of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.
If it reaches Florida, this will be the fourth year in a row a hurricane of any strength has hit the state. That would be the most years in a row since the 1940s.
Dorian is on track to be the strongest hurricane to strike Florida’s east coast since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Military and NASA make adjustments
To avoid damage from Dorian, the US Navy is moving more than 40 planes from Jacksonville to bases in Michigan, Ohio and Texas.
The US Air Force is evacuating 16 aircraft from MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa to McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas, an Air Force official said.
Florida State University had been scheduled to play its season-opening game off campus, in Jacksonville near the Atlantic coast. Because of Dorian, the game has been moved farther inland to FSU’s normal home field in Tallahassee.
Because Dorian could impact Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, NASA has said it will have a crawler-transporter move NASA’s mobile launcher Friday from launch pad 39B to the Vehicle Assembly Building about 3.5 miles away. The launcher was being tested on the pad in anticipation of future Space Launch System missions.