Tropical Storm Dorian now expected to be a major hurricane

Storm now forecast to strengthen into Category 3 before hitting Florida's coast

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

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tropical Storm Dorian is now expected to move over Puerto Rico and then intensify into a Category 3 hurricane as it sets its sights on the east coast of Florida. Hurricane Hunters found sustained winds of 70 mph and forecasters' 11 a.m. advisory included the entire east coast of Florida within the forecast cone.

UPDATE: Dorian expected to become a 'dangerous' hurricane

The National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Dorian is holding its strength, but it's now forecast to become a Category 3 hurricane by Sunday morning.

    Tracking Dorian

Dorian was moving northwest near 13 mph as it headed toward Puerto Rico. That motion is expected to continue through Thursday morning, followed by a turn toward the west on Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Dorian will pass over or near western and central Puerto Rico on Wednesday and reach the East Coast of Florida on Monday.

Maximum sustained winds remained near 70 mph with higher gusts Wednesday morning. Strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours, and Dorian is forecast to become a hurricane later Wednesday and continue strengthening during the next few days over the
Atlantic waters. 

The storm is also getting bigger, as tropical-storm-force winds now extend outward up to 80 miles from the center.

Potential impacts for greater Jacksonville:

  • Nor’easter conditions will develop Thursday and persist into the weekend.
  • Dorian may threaten during the Labor Day weekend as a major hurricane.
  • Local tides will already be astronomically elevated late this week and into the weekend due to the new moon. 
  • Expect flooding along the coastline in river, especially during times of high tide
  • Heavy rainfall potential as Northeast Florida would likely be on the “wet” side if Dorian comes into Central or South Florida.

RELATED: Florida begins preparing for Dorian
RELATED: How quickly could you evacuate? It depends on where you live

 

AP photo/Gianfranco Gaglione

Jorge Ortiz works to tie down his roof as he prepares for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, in the Martín Peña neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Dorian heads for Puerto Rico amid fears of flooding

Tropical Storm Dorian threatened Puerto Rico with a direct hit at near-hurricane force on Wednesday and forecasters said it could strengthen further as it approaches the U.S. mainland.

The storm was expected to pass over or near Puerto Rico, with landslides, widespread flooding and power outages possible in what is expected to be the first major test of emergency preparedness since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. President Donald Trump declared an emergency Tuesday night and ordered federal assistance for local authorities.

"Practically the entire island will be under sustained tropical storm force winds," said Roberto García, director of U.S. National Weather Service San Juan, during a press conference late Tuesday.
  
However, he said the forecast could keep changing, adding that late shifts occur with storms such as Dorian that do not have a well-defined center.

The storm earlier had been projected to brush the western part of the U.S. territory and the change in the storm's course caught many off guard in the tiny island of Vieques just east of Puerto Rico, a popular tourist destination that now lies in Dorian's path.

"I'm in shock," Vilma Santana said in a phone interview, adding that she's relieved it's not a hurricane. "Thank God it's a storm."

A still-uncertain long-term forecast would have Dorian nearing Florida at hurricane strength by Sunday or Monday.

Early Wednesday, Dorian was located about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southeast of St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it had strengthened slightly, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) while moving northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

The storm was expected to dump 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain with isolated amounts of 8 inches (20 centimeters).

It's a forecast that worries many in Puerto Rico because blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island's 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria, a Category 4 storm.

Ramonita Torres, a thin, stooped, 74-year-old woman lives by herself in the impoverished, flood-prone neighborhood of Las Monjas in the capital of San Juan. She was still trying to rebuild the home she nearly lost after Maria but was not able to secure the pieces of zinc that now serve as her roof.

"There's no money for that," she said, shaking her head.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A tropical storm warning also was issued for the British Virgin Islands, and a tropical storm watch was in force for the Dominican Republic from Isla Saona to Samaná.

Dorian earlier caused power outages and downed trees in Barbados and St. Lucia.

Although top government officials in Puerto Rico said they were prepared for the storm and had sufficient equipment, a couple of mayors, including those in the western region, said they did not have enough generators or shelters that were properly set up.

José Ortiz, executive director of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority, acknowledged that the distribution system still has weak areas and could "suffer" under winds of 50 to 60 mph. However, he stressed the agency has the needed inventory, including more than 120,000 lights, 23,000 poles and 7,400 transformers.

But Freddyson Martínez, vice president of a power workers' union, told The Associated Press that while the electric grid has improved in some areas, he worries about a lack of power line workers and post-Maria patches which feature lines affixed to palm trees.

The island's transportation secretary acknowledged that crews are still rebuilding roads damaged or blocked by Maria, more than 1,000 of which remain blocked by that storm's landslides.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez urged those living in flood-prone areas or under a blue tarp to move into one of the island's 360 shelters.
  
Officials also said public schools and government offices would remain closed through at least Thursday.
  
"We learned our lesson quite well after Maria," Vázquez said. "We are going to be much better prepared."
  
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is still struggling to recover from hurricanes Irma and Maria, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. closed schools and government offices and said he would implement a curfew until Thursday, adding that officials would soon open more shelters and were prepaing sandbags in all three islands.
  
"The main threat in this storm is the water," he said in a conference call early Wednesday. "We still have a lot of vulnerable people in the territory."
  
Some 1,000 customers in St. Croix and dozens in St. Thomas and St. John were already without power on Wednesday.
  
Dorian was expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night or Friday.
  
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Erin formed well off the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday night, and the National Hurricane Service said the storm was forecast to move northward over the open Atlantic with no immediate threat to land.
  
It was about 435 miles (705 kilometers) west of Bermuda and 265 miles (430 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph).

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.