BY BRETT CLARKSON AND TONYA ALANEZ
FORT LAUDERDALE — Tropical Storm Dorian is now forecast to strike Florida as a major hurricane, with the storm expected to flare up into a Category 3 hurricane in the ocean as it travels west from the Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest update, issued at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
But still, Dorian’s date with Florida remains shrouded in uncertainty so things can, and probably will, change before Monday’s anticipated landfall on Florida’s east coast.
The latest cone map has also dropped Dorian’s center south with the track now aiming for the Cape Canaveral area on Florida’s east coast. Earlier Wednesday the track forecast had the center of the storm landing farther north in Florida, closer to the Daytona Beach-St. Augustine-Jacksonville area.
“The risk of dangerous storm surge and hurricane-force winds is increasing in the central and northwestern Bahamas and along the Florida east coast, although it is too soon to determine where these hazards will occur,” Senior Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila wrote in the 11 a.m. advisory.
SLIGHT SHIFT TO THE NORTH
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dorian was positioned about 60 miles southeast of St. Croix with maximum winds of 60 mph — a 10 mph increase from Tuesday — as it moved northwest at 13 mph.
During the last 12 hours or so, Dorian has shifted slightly to the north.
The Florida Keys and lower part of Miami-Dade County are no longer in the so-called “cone of concern.” But hurricane forecasters are reminding people to be aware that storm path forecasts five days out are notoriously sketchy — and could be off by 200 miles.
No matter what happens, Dorian is expected to drench the Florida peninsula with 4 to 8 inches of rain and, in isolated areas, up to 10 inches, according to the hurricane center. Significant amounts of rain are also expected in Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.
The most recent track forecast has Dorian on a path toward the east coast of Central Florida with a potential landfall happening sometime between late Saturday night and late Sunday into Monday morning.
The most recent intensity forecast is also pretty uncertain when it comes to how strong the storm will be by the time it reaches Florida.
As of early Wednesday, the hurricane center was predicting Dorian would reach hurricane strength sometime over the next two days and peak at 100 mph, Category 2, strength within five days.
Still, “uncertainty in the intensity forecast late this week remains higher than usual due to a large spread in the model guidance,” the hurricane center said.
The major make-or-break point in Dorian’s path that’s also contributing to the uncertainty is how the storm will interact with Hispaniola, basically the land mass that includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and Puerto Rico.
Whether these islands will and their mountains will weaken Dorian, or not, remains to be seen.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria.