MIAMI, Fla. — Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 3 major storm and is still gathering strength as it moves toward Florida, where it could make landfall as soon as late Monday as a Category 4 hurricane.
The storm’s new status means it’s considered a “major” hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. At that strength — with sustained wind speeds between 111 and 129 mph — storms can cause “devastating damage” to homes and uproot many trees, says the National Hurricane Center.
As a result of Dorian’s power, all of Florida has been placed 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 FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor said Friday morning on CNN’s “New Day.” “So, take the time now … to understand what your local risk is.”
“The clock is ticking right now,” he added. “Don’t waste time. Prepare yourself and your family.”
Deborah Thomas, 69, was doing just that 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.”
Dorian, now with sustained winds of 115 mph, 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. Hurricane watches have been issued for the northwestern Bahamas, where Dorian is expected to hit Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said. In the meantime, Dorian is expected to “remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane,” the center said, with potentially “life-threatening storm surge.”
It is then forecast to roar toward the U.S. mainland Monday evening into Tuesday morning at major-hurricane strength, though experts warn that forecasts are subject to change. “There is a wide cone of uncertainty of the storm, especially since it is still days from landfall on Florida,” CNN meteorologist Rob Shackelford said. The cone extends from Key West up to around Jacksonville, a distance of 500 miles, he added.
The storm is likely to grow in size, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said. That means that regardless of where it makes landfall, much of Florida — including inland cities like Orlando and west coast cities like Tampa — could see hurricane force winds and heavy rain. Storm surge could impact much of the state’s east coast.
Florida residents are stocking up
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that President Donald 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, he said Thursday.
Local officials throughout the state are making decisions Friday about whether to issue evacuation orders, DeSantis said in a Friday morning news conference. “We are just asking Floridians, please heed those directives from your local folks,” he said, adding, “Those decisions are not made lightly.”
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 the 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,” West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James said. “The more we hear about this storm, it sounds like a serious one.”
Thomas, who was fretting over her beloved pets, 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. And 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.
“It is taking a little bit of a hindrance, especially when we’re supposed to be preparing for one of our busiest weekends of the year,” Frank Figueroa, owner of the neighboring Sandbar, said.
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.
And if it reaches Florida as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of around 130 mph, it would be the strongest hurricane to strike Florida’s east coast since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, CNN Meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Military and NASA are making adjustments
To avoid damage from Dorian, the U.S. Navy is moving more than 40 planes from Jacksonville to bases in Michigan, Ohio and Texas.
The U.S. 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. But 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.