As forecast fatigue sets in for Floridians following Hurricane Dorian over the past several days, the National Weather Service is advising residents not to let their guard down yet with this unpredictable and powerful storm.
Most of the peninsula’s east coast, including portions of South Florida, remain inside the storm track’s cone of uncertainty. And though the latest models show Dorian moving westward through Monday and turning north off Florida’s east coast early Tuesday, all of that could change as quickly as Dorian’s unexpected jump to a Category 4 storm late Friday.
Robert Garcia, a forecaster with the NWS’s Miami Forecast Office, said there’s a significant margin of error in projections for the storm. The cone of uncertainty communicates the storm’s center about two-thirds of the time, he said.
“If the center were to lean to the left side of the cone,” he said, “there’s still a potential to see large impacts from a very strong Category 4 hurricane over South Florida.”
At the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, the message was also one of caution.
“The word of the day is adjustments according to the storm track — without taking your eye off the ball,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the State Emergency Response Team or SERT.
Guthrie reminded emergency operators from organizations across the state that Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was predicted to go north but headed west into Miami-Dade while Hurricane Irma in 2017 zig-zagged three times before making landfall in Southwest Florida.
“Don’t expect to go home tomorrow,” he told those in the room.
Ashley Davis, head of operations for the SERT, warned that storm surge and rain could lead to flooding of the St. John’s River in Jacksonville.
“We’ve got to prepare for the worst and plan for the worst,” she said. “I would just urge not to get happy feet just yet.”
Forecasters will continue to gather data on Dorian and develop a clearer picture of what the storm will do. But the storm does not have to make landfall in Florida to cause severe problems for the region.
Dorian is predicted to bring heavy rain and tropical storm force winds of up to 73 miles per hour to South Florida.
Those conditions, combined with a king tide forecast for the region through Monday, mean much of South Florida, particularly coastal areas, could see flooding, felled trees, beach erosion and rip currents.
“Folks can’t be letting their guard down,” Garcia said, “because you don’t want to be surprised in a negative fashion.”
Dorian was east of the Bahamas on Saturday morning and remained a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour with higher gusts. Garcia said the chance of South Florida experiencing hurricane force winds range from 25 percent in Miami-Dade to 45 percent in Palm Beach County.
“We’re not out of the danger,” he cautioned. Garcia advised South Florida residents to complete storm preparations by mid-Sunday before conditions worsen.
As Dorian is forecast to move west through Sunday and then turn north early next week, he said the storm could slow down and have a lingering effect on South Florida. Much of the forecast, he said, depends on the storm’s track and the formation of a high pressure system over the Atlantic that is steering the storm.
“It’s not like it’s going to speed off to the north,” he said. “Realistically, we could feel impacts, especially along the coast, as late as late Tuesday into the early parts of Wednesday if it were to be on the slower end of the forecast potential.”