Hurricane Dorian makes turn to north-northeast at Category 3 strength

Coastal Flood Warning in effect for inland waterways of inland Northeast Florida

By John Gaughan - Chief meteorologist, Rebecca Barry - Meteorologist, Richard Nunn - Meteorologist, Mark Collins - Meteorologist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After losing intensity for three days, Hurricane Dorian strengthened late Wednesday evening to a Category 3 storm as it began moving past the coast of Georgia.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was maintaining sustained winds of 115 mph. The center of the storm was about 70 miles south southeast of Charleston, South Carolina -- but it finally took the long-expected turn to the north-northeast, still moving at 8 mph.

A turn toward the northeast is expected on Thursday night. A northeastward motion at a faster forward speed is forecast on Friday. On the forecast track, the center of Dorian will move near or over the coast of South Carolina on Thursday and then move near or over the coast of North Carolina Thursday night and Friday.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles. The minimum central pressure reported by an Air Force plane was 959 mb. Some fluctuations in intensity are expected with slow weakening Thursday through Friday.

Jacksonville and its surrounding counties felt the effects of Dorian through the day Wednesday as the storm slowly passed about 100 miles offshore. At 1:15 a.m., the St. Augustine Beach Pier reported sustained winds of 44 mph and a wind gust measured at 52 mph -- above tropical storm force. 

In Florida, initially projected to take a direct hit from Dorian, there was widespread relief and gratitude after the storm passed the state from a relatively safe distance offshore.  

"We're lucky today,'' said Ryan Haggett, kitchen manager at the Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill, at Flagler Beach. Haggett and others removed storm shutters from restaurant windows, preparing to serve dinner Wednesday night. 

All watches and warnings for the East Coast of Florida south of the mouth of St. Marys River have been discontinued, except for a Coastal Flood Warning that is in effect until 8 p.m. Thursday for the inland waterways of inland Northeast Florida, including the St. Johns River Basin and tributaries. At 11 p.m., Dorian was about 110 miles east of Brunswick. A Tropical Storm Warning continues for the southeast Georgia coast.

According to the NHC, large swells will affect the northwestern Bahamas, and the entire southeastern United States coast from Florida through North Carolina during the next several days. These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

The storm, which ravaged the Bahamas with more than a full day of devastating wind and rain, had weakened substantially -- dropping from a Category 5 storm to a Category 2. But it still had dangerously high winds and threatened to swamp low-lying regions from Georgia to southeastern Virginia on its trek northward.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.