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Science & Environment

Dorian Heads Toward U.S.


We're watching Hurricane Dorian today as it churns in the Atlantic, heading toward the Bahamas. It's now a Category 5 with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour. Ray Hawthorne is a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, and he's tracking the intensity and path of this storm. Good morning.

RAY HAWTHORNE: Hey, good morning there, Leila.

FADEL: How are you?

HAWTHORNE: We're doing OK so far.

FADEL: So, Ray, this sounds dire for the Bahamas. When do you expect Dorian's full strength to hit the islands?

HAWTHORNE: Yeah. The full strength of the hurricane is likely to come onshore later on today. And the big story there is it's going to last quite some time. The hurricane is slowing down. Yesterday, it was moving toward the west at about 12 or 13 miles per hour. Now it has slowed down and is moving toward the west at about eight miles per hour. And it will slow even more today. So these very strong winds, Category 4, Category 5 winds, are going to last over the northwestern Bahamas for perhaps a day or more.

FADEL: Wow. So just how devastating could it be?

HAWTHORNE: It could be catastrophic. We're looking at storm surge potential of 15 to 20 feet. We're looking at many, many, many hours of hurricane force winds. We're looking at rainfall amounts that are going to exceed 1 or 2 feet in parts of the islands.

FADEL: And what about the East Coast? What path does the storm seem to be taking?

HAWTHORNE: So what's likely to happen is the storm is expected to slow down. It might even stall out. And then the forecast track becomes a little bit fuzzy, although it looks like the core of the hurricane most likely will stay just east of the Florida East Coast. However, the storm is large enough that tropical storm force winds are likely to start moving ashore near the Treasure Coast, generally coming up on Monday and then perhaps lasting into Tuesday and then spreading up the East Coast. There still is a chance, Leila, that the storm could veer a little bit to the left and affect Florida directly. But right now, that looks unlikely.

FADEL: Winds and waves are the biggest immediate danger, but much of the southeast should be on the lookout for flooding, too, right?

HAWTHORNE: Yes. Flooding is going to be a big concern. We're looking for rainfall amounts around 3 to 6 inches over the Atlantic coast of the Florida Peninsula. However, as the storm heads north later this week, Wednesday into Thursday, the Carolinas could see much more rain, perhaps in excess of 10 inches.

FADEL: In the past several years, some big hurricanes, Irma and Florence, have changed course dramatically. And now Dorian also seems to be veering off its projected course. Is this to be expected or are storms becoming more unpredictable?

HAWTHORNE: Well, sometimes it just depends on how well-defined the steering is. So there are storms that are relatively easy to predict. Then there are storms that are harder. And because this one is slowing down and the steering is becoming a little less defined, it's harder to sometimes pinpoint exactly the angle at which it's going to turn. So typically, the slower moving the storm, the harder that it is to predict. So, no, I'm not all that surprised here.

FADEL: What's your advice for Floridians today?

HAWTHORNE: So the biggest advice I could offer is don't let your guard down just yet. We've already seen the storm already change direction. That could certainly happen again. Right now, the most likely scenario keeps the very worst of the winds just offshore. But still, tropical storm force winds are a good bet, heavy rain. Make sure you prepare. Coastal flooding is also going to be a concern as well.

FADEL: Ray Hawthorne is a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. Thank you very much and stay safe.

HAWTHORNE: Thanks so much, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.