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Hurricane Dorian Heads Toward Florida Coast, Expected To Bring 125-MPH Winds

Hurricane Dorian could bring tropical-storm-force winds to the Florida coast as early as Saturday evening, the National Hurricane Center says.

Hurricane Dorian is predicted to hit Florida and the northern Bahamas this weekend as a dangerous Category 3 storm, bringing intense rains and sustained winds of 125 mph, the National Hurricane Center says.

With favorable conditions and very warm waters ahead, Dorian is expected to hit a fearsome growth spurt in the next 48 hours. As the NHC says, "all of the intensity models forecast Dorian to begin strengthening again soon, and rapid intensification could occur."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for 26 counties in the path of the hurricane, citing forecasters' dire predictions of high winds and the chance for a damaging storm surge and flooding.

Dorian is currently expected to make landfall as a major hurricane early Monday. But its strong winds will arrive hours earlier — and many parts of Florida could feel the storm's effects, says NHC Director Ken Graham.

"Please don't think this is just coastal," Graham says in a video update Thursday morning. "This is over the whole state."

Under the current forecast, Dorian is expected to maintain its hurricane status as it moves inland — a process Graham said would be slow and dangerous and could produce "high impacts" through persistent wind and rain.

Pointing to an "M" on the forecast map that denotes Dorian's approach as a major hurricane and then to an "H" near the center of Florida, Graham added, "The distance here is about 24 hours."

Dorian has left the Caribbean Sea and is now over the open Atlantic Ocean. currently has 85 mph winds and is moving northwest at 13 mph, the National Hurricane Center says in its 5 a.m. ET update. At the time, Dorian was about 150 miles north-northwest of San Juan.

Dorian drenched parts of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and other islands on Wednesday. The storm became a hurricane as it approached those land masses, with sustained winds of 75-80 mph. Despite raising alarms in a string of Caribbean islands, Dorian has not been reported to have caused extensive damage — a relief in areas still working to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

"Thankfully, there were no reports of major damage here," NPR's Adrián Florido reports from San Juan. He adds that in the U.S. Virgin Islands, "there were widespread power outages" in both St. Thomas and St. Croix, along with some flooding.

In Puerto Rico, the newspaper El Nuevo Dia says that compared to those earlier hurricanes, Dorian served as "a great drill" to put the government's response system to a test.

Now it's Florida's turn to prepare, as a major hurricane heads toward its central east coast. The first tropical-storm-force winds could hit Florida as early as Saturday night.

Warning against taking the forecast 5-day cone too literally — and assuming landfall will occur where the line currently hits the coast — the NHC's Graham said, "Two-thirds of the time, based on our average error over the last five years, you could see the center of this system anywhere inside this cone."

That means, he added, that everyone from southern Georgia all the way down to the Florida Keys "really has to pay attention to this system."

For much of the next 48 hours, Dorian will likely be on a fairly northwestern track. It's then predicted to make a left turn to the west-northwest. But the timing and angle of that shift remains uncertain, meaning any landfall predictions are very likely to change. Forecast models are predicting a number of potential paths into Florida's coast, from near the Georgia border to South Florida. The current projection is based on a consensus of those predictions.

"We don't want anybody focusing on exactly where the center would come ashore," says NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen, "because hurricanes, as we know, are not a dot on a map. Their impacts are over a wide area."

With the storm currently at sea, no coastal watches or warnings are currently in effect for Dorian. But forecasters say it could skim the northwestern Bahamas on its way to the U.S. mainland.

The Bahamas Department of Meteorology is monitoring the hurricane, but it says that because the storm's track has stayed to the east, the island chain may suffer only a glancing blow from Dorian.

While Dorian caused some flooding and isolated damage in the Caribbean, there are now sighs of relief, as leaders give thanks and schools and businesses prepare to open.

In the British Virgin Islands, the Terrance B. Lettsome airport on Beef Island was reopened for business early Thursday.

Giving a summary of the hurricane's effects late Wednesday night, BVI Premier Andrew Fahie said, "Thanks be to God that we have had no reports of loss of lives, serious injuries, major property damage, crimes or problems in relation to businesses being compromised. "
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.