By Alex Harris and Michelle Marchante
MIAMI — Hurricane Dorian is slowing down as it crosses the Atlantic with a predicted Monday afternoon landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm. All of Florida is under a state of emergency.
The 5 p.m. EDT update Thursday from the National Hurricane Center showed that the storm, which could upgrade from a Category 1 to a Category 2 sometime Friday morning, is predicted to become a weak Category 4 when it comes ashore Monday afternoon. Predictions show the storm could drop to a Category 1 as it crosses Central Florida, but landfall could also bring 5 to 10 inches of rain to the Southeast coast of the U.S.
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. Friday is the day the storm is predicted to make a turn toward Florida.
“Dorian is predicted to remain a dangerous hurricane throughout the remainder of the forecast period,” forecasters wrote Thursday afternoon.
The hurricane was about 330 miles southeast of the Southeastern Bahamas as of Thursday’s 5 p.m. updated forecast, which showed Dorian had maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour.
Forecasters say the strengthening will continue, and Florida will see a “powerful hurricane” near or over it by Monday.
Dorian’s 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.
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. Thursday’s 5 p.m. update showed a landing near Vero Beach.
“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 a Thursday morning advisory.
On Thursday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties.
“All residents, especially those along the east coast, need to be prepared for possible impacts,” DeSantis said in a statement, urging Floridians to have seven days of supplies on hand. “As it increases strength, this storm has the potential to severely damage homes, businesses and buildings, which is why all Floridians should remain vigilant. Do not wait until it is too late to make a plan.”
DeSantis assured residents he has strong support from the White House, despite the president’s decision to transfer $155 million of FEMA funds toward the southwest border as Dorian approaches.
“He assured me that the federal government would be with us every step of the way,” DeSantis said. “They’ll be supporting us in any way that they can.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is waiting for Hurricane Dorian’s forecast to narrow before determining where to deploy resources across Florida.
Jeff Byard, FEMA associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, said the agency is sending personnel to Tallahassee and pre-positioning assets like water and meals across the state.
“It’s a phrased approach,” Byard said. “We work for the governor in these situations but obviously we bring a lot of firepower.”
Byard was unable to estimate how many FEMA employees were currently in Florida, though he did say some personnel originally deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were en route to Florida after Dorian largely spared the Caribbean.
Byard said he spoke with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday about Lake Okeechobee’s water levels. He said the Corps “feel like they’re in good shape with the amount of rain that could fall.”
Byard also said the agency was analyzing Dorian’s potential impacts and developing contingency plans for key pieces of infrastructure like the St. Lucie nuclear power plant, which lies near the center of the storm’s current projected path.
He did note that Dorian’s current path gives FEMA and other agencies more time to prepare than they had for Hurricane Michael, which strengthened rapidly into a Category 5 Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall on the Florida panhandle last year.
“You’ve got a very strong storm, it’s not going to interact with land until it hits Florida and there’s very warm water,” Byard said. “I don’t see this storm weakening as it moves along.”
Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen held a news conference Thursday to implore residents to start preparing.
“While we do not know exactly where Hurricane Dorian is going to hit, we do know something from 2017 and that has to do with Hurricane Irma,” Bogen said. “Irma was projected to go straight west up the Florida coast and at last minute it deviated through Orlando to Jacksonville.”
Bogen said the lesson learned is that everyone needs to be prepared.
He told residents to focus on five things ahead of the storm: Expect a power outage and plan accordingly; know where shelters are but try to come up with an alternative; sign up for the county’s alert system; shutter up as soon as possible; and while there are no evacuations yet, Bogen said have a plan in place.
Heads from Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward County Schools, Broward County Sheriff Fire Rescue and the Emergency Operations Center also gave updates.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said all of the county’s agencies have been coordinating efforts and making sure everything is in place for the storm.
“Rest assured we are way ahead of things in terms of preparedness,” he said.
In the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands were cleaning up Thursday after Dorian became a Category 1 hurricane 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 Vazquez late Wednesday announced there was no need to keep schools closed 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.