By Alex Harris and Michelle Marchante Miami Herald
MIAMI — Hurricane Dorian is currently projected to make landfall on Labor Day in Florida as a Category 4 storm.
The 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center showed the storm, which could upgrade to a Category 2 sometime Thursday, is predicted to become a weak Category 4 when it comes ashore Monday morning. Once it makes landfall predictions show the storm could drop to a Category 1 as it crosses Central Florida.
Wednesday saw the storm clear Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. On Thursday, Dorian is in the warm Atlantic waters for the next few days and is steadily moving northwest at 13 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
WHERE THE STORM IS NOW
The hurricane was about 220 miles north of San Juan as of Thursday’s 11 a.m. updated forecast, which showed Dorian strengthened to maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, up from 80 on Wednesday evening.
Forecasters say the strengthening will continue, and Florida will see a “powerful hurricane” near or over it by Monday.
Based on the current projections, Dorian is expected to turn into a Category 4 hurricane by Friday, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, according to the hurricane center’s advisory.
WHERE IS DORIAN LANDING?
Landing location is the million-dollar question. Forecasters say it’s still too early to tell.
Nearly all of the intensity models show Dorian becoming a stronger hurricane in the next couple of days, when it passes near or to the east of the Turks and Caicos islands and the Bahamas by Friday and Saturday. Dorian is about 370 miles east-southeast of the Bahamas, as of Thursday morning.
The track shows Dorian heading toward Florida’s eastern coast by the weekend but Wednesday’s updates also saw the storm track trending more south, toward Miami-Dade.
“Residents in these areas should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and not focus on the exact forecast track of Dorian’s center,” the hurricane center said in its early morning advisory.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon for 26 counties in the storm’s potential path and activated the state’s Emergency Operations Center to Level 2. The state EOC is expected to ramp up on Friday.
“It’s important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely,” DeSantis said in a statement, urging Floridians to have seven days of supplies on hand. “I will continue to monitor Hurricane Dorian closely with emergency management officials. The state stands ready to support all counties along the coast as they prepare.”
What forecasters do know is that the Bahamas, Florida and other parts in the southeastern United States may see heavy rainfall over the weekend and into early next week. Life-threatening flash floods, surf and rip current conditions are possible.
The Central Bahamas may see two to four inches of new rainfall, with isolated areas seeing up to six inches. The northwestern Bahamas and the coastal sections of the southeastern United States, including Florida, may see four to eight inches of rain. Isolated areas could see up to 12 inches.
IMPACTS TO THE CARIBBEAN
The U.S. Virgin Islands were cleaning up on Thursday after Dorian became a Cat. 1 hurricane over the U.S. territory on Wednesday.
The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority said it was still working to restore electricity to some areas of St. Thomas and St. John. And USVI Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. lifted a curfew at 8 a.m. Thursday, saying the roads have been cleared of all debris.
In Puerto Rico life was also getting back to normal after Dorian — defying early expectations — largely avoided the big island. Gov. Wanda Vázquez late Wednesday announced there was no need to keep schools closed on Thursday, as initially planned.
While forecasters were expecting heavy rains on the island in Dorian’s wake, the rains never materialized. Authorities were also planning to reopen ferry service to the islands of Culebra and Vieques — in eastern Puerto Rico — that did see some rain and heavy winds during the storm.
The only known fatality in Puerto Rico due to the storm came when an 80-year-old man fell off his roof in Bayamón, clearing out his gutters in preparation for Dorian.
Royal Caribbean and Carnival have shifted cruise itineraries to react to the storm. MSC Cruise and Norwegian Cruise line itineraries remain unchanged.