Hurricane Dorian closes in on northern Bahamas
The track for Category 4 Hurricane Dorian shifted again early Sunday, potentially bringing its fierce core closer to the South Florida sometime Monday.
While the National Hurricane Center was still predicting Florida would avoid a direct hit, the 5 a.m. advisory put more of the coast into the cone.
A tropical storm watch was extended south to cover all of Broward County, meaning winds of that force could reach the coast within 48 hours. A tropical storm warning extended from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian, meaning conditions could worsen withing 36 hours. Miami-Dade remained out of the forecast cone for now.
The slight shift was the result of new computer models that suggested Dorian, with 150 mph winds expected to still strengthen during the day, would meander over the northwest Bahamas for the next few days and drift closer to the Florida coast before turning north. The timing of that turn will make a huge difference in impacts for the state and millions will watch the path anxiously over the next few days.
Forecasters and emergency planners had warned for several days about getting too comfortable with encouraging model runs. As Gov. Ron DeSantis cautioned at a Saturday bight briefing, residents should not take the fierce and still-strengthening system lightly. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said at a Saturday night briefing.
The storm’s projected path — skirting the length of the state’s east coast — also was drawing attention from states that could be next under the gun, including Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The outlook was especially grim for the Northwestern Bahamas, where warned that residents were in for a grueling ordeal, with Dorian becoming “nearly stationary over the northwestern Bahamas in 36 to 48 hours.” Early Sunday, Dorian’s hurricane winds whirled just hours away,
The Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island could be awash in 10 to 15 feet of storm surge, and the coast could be pounded by “large and destructive waves.”
If the latest track does not shift further west, Dorian’s strongest winds would still remain in the Atlantic but Broward County and coastal communities north could see tropical storm gust , and government leaders warned the region may experience windy weather, choppy waters and flooding, made worse by the king tide. And forecasters constantly warn that hurricanes don’t always follow predicted paths.
“It is way too early to let our guard down,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during a press conference Saturday at the county’s emergency management headquarters in Doral. “We still have a 50-70 percent chance of tropical storm force winds and surges. Don’t take down your shutters, not just yet.”
Still, the improved outlook for South Florida made for a better day in North Beach on Satruday, where there were few signs of an impending storm. The beach was filled with windsurfers and sunbathers — some locals, others from out of town.
“Most of the preparations were done yesterday,” said North Beach resident Alfredo Alcazar, who ate gelato with his wife and 2-year-old daughter at a parlor on 71st Street. “Today was more of a relaxing day at home. With ice cream, too.”
On the sand lounged a group of friends from New York City, sipping vodka lemonades, talking about the Rolling Stones concern they had attended the night before. Their Tuesday flight back home might be canceled, they said, but the airline still hadn’t given them the final word.
“Everyone was telling us to be careful, but it’s whatever,” Johnny Smith, 27, said of their trip. “If we die, we die together in Miami.”
There were were still plenty of reasons to worry about an uncomfortable Labor Day weekend for Miami-Dade.
King tide flooding is expected to continue through Tuesday, adding a foot or more of water to areas already saturated with rainfall.
Over in Miami, city authorities continued distributing sandbags until 8 p.m. Saturday at Grapeland Park, 1550 NW 37th Ave. Water and ice was also to be distributed throughout the city if needed, Mayor Francis Suarez said an afternoon press conference.
“It’s apparent that we will receive some level of tropical storm force winds and potentially flooding. And for that reason, and because our state, federal and county partners have declared similarly, I will be declaring a state of emergency in the City of Miami as of 2:07 today,” Suarez said.
Elsewhere in the state, anxiety hadn’t dissipated despite the encouraging forecasts.
Brevard and Martin counties issued mandatory evacuations of their barrier islands beginning Sunday morning. The counties of Osceola, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Glades and Hendry announced voluntary evacuations for people in mobile homes or flood-prone areas.
Early Saturday evening, the National Hurricane Center issued a tropical-storm watch for a swatch of the east coast, from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian Inlet, meaning winds of that strength could reach the coast in 48 hours.
In Brevard County, the U.S. Coast Guard closed Port Canaveral, a major cruise and cargo hub, to commercial traffic starting at 5 p.m on Saturday.
The Florida Department of Corrections announced early Saturday evening that it had evacuated nine facilities, most of them release and re-entry centers, as well as Largo Road Prison in Clearwater. The agency said its other facilities are well stocked with food and water, and that its emergency operations center would be monitoring the storm.
At a Vero Beach mobile home community, 46-year-old Buffy Royal waited for afternoon heat to subside before bringing in more than a dozen plants. Royal works three jobs, one of them as a gas-station attendant, and she hadn’t been told if she’s getting time off.
“I’m not going to stress over what I can’t control,” Royal said Saturday. “I don’t have the funds to board up my house. But I’m not going to overwhelm myself with this storm. If it’s going to hit, it’s going to hit.”
Also on Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned that Dorian could be a “multi-day storm” and said officials have distributed about a million gallons of water and plan to distribute almost two million meals from a central warehouse hub in Orlando. He also said President Trump had approved his request for a federal disaster declaration for the state.
“That will enable us to draw down more federal resources in anticipation of this storm,” he said Saturday in a media briefing. “The constant in this storm ... is that this thing is getting stronger.”
Authorities were also being vigilant in caring for the state’s most vulnerable residents.
By Saturday morning, at least 684 of 687 licensed nursing homes had secured generators to keep the electricity running, said Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.
The numbers for Florida’s assisted living facilities were not as good, however. The state reported that 99 of the 3,062 licensed ALFs still have no on-site generator or have provided no information about how they plan to keep residents safe in an emergency Only four facilities have said they have emergency plans to evacuate if needed.
Mayhew said AHCA staff is doing in-person and phone interviews to ensure generators are being acquired or, in the absence of that, there are appropriate plans to evacuate.
Florida mandated generators after 12 people died at a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the facility’s air-conditioning system in 2017.
Miami Herald staff writers Daniel Chang, Mary Ellen Klas, Samantha Gross, Ben Conarck and Devoun Cetoute contributed to this report.