(Bloomberg) -- Dorian wasn’t the deadliest or costliest hurricane to roam the Atlantic, but the two days it was stalled over the Bahamas, devastating the island nation, made it unique.
“There has never been anything like it,” Ryan Truchelut, chief meteorologist at WeatherTiger LLC in Tallahassee, Florida, said in an interview. “We’ve never seen a Category 5 storm stall like that over one point for 36 hours. The energy it unleashed in such a small area has never happened before in the Atlantic.”
The Bahamas, which were hit with 180 mile-per-hour winds and 2 feet or more of rain, “were extremely unlucky, and Florida dodged a bullet,” he said.
On Saturday, a day after bashing North Carolina’s barrier islands, Dorian lost its tropical characteristics and became an intense post-tropical cyclone. In its final act across Canada’s east coast, it uprooted large trees, ripped off roofs and brought down power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands in the dark. The National Hurricane Center said at 11 p.m. Sunday, in its last Dorian advisory, that the storm was drifting east-northeast past Cape Race, Newfoundland, off the far tip of Canada.
Initially, the system eventually named Dorian was weak as it formed from thunderstorms near Africa and lumbered into the Caribbean toward Puerto Rico. Once it hit deeper, warm waters west of the Antilles chain of islands, it quickly grew into one of the most powerful in modern history -- a Category 5 -- the highest in hurricane lore.
“We’re seeing the future of major hurricanes,” Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, an IBM business, said by phone. “They intensify faster and move slower.”
At first the fate of Puerto Rico, still recovering from its devastation by Hurricane Maria in 2017, was the major concern. Instead, Dorian turned its wrath toward the Bahamas, hitting the island nation with a 23-foot storm surge, record-high winds and driving rains.
On Saturday, local authorities said the number of confirmed deaths from the storm would quickly rise from the 43 confirmed, with hundreds of people still unaccounted for. Coroners were embalming bodies after running out of space in coolers, Health Minister Duane Sands said in a radio interview. The final death toll will likely be “staggering,” he said.
“We’ll never get to know how much rain fell over the Bahamas because the equipment was destroyed,” said Dan Kottlowski of AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more than 2 feet. Some people are saying up to 40 inches. The combination of the heavy rain and the surge was devastating.”
Authorities and first responders were just starting to assess the damage on Friday and Saturday, sifting through rubble, attics and vegetation in the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, where the storm’s fury was worst. The U.S. Coast Guard, which is assisting Bahamian authorities, said crews had rescued 290 people as of Saturday.
“If it hit Florida that strong it would have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center. “It would have been the worst in U.S. history.”
Meanwhile, Florida was largely unaffected, with the storm traveling more than 60 miles from its coast, moving slowly northward. North Carolina, though, wasn’t so lucky as the storm swirled closer and closer to the shoreline. Eventually it made a brief landfall Friday on the state’s barrier islands as a Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds and driving rains.
The hurricane, after picking up speed as it hits open water on its trek north, will slowly weaken after passing over Nova Scotia, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. In the meantime, it has drenched the Carolinas, spurred about a dozen tornadoes in the region and caused major flooding.
Crops in the southeastern region were a serious concern prior to Dorian’s arrival on the coast since the storm was coming at a time when fields were maturing, and high winds could have dealt a devastating blow before farmers have a chance to harvest. But early reports indicated crops such as cotton avoided major problems and livestock plants were running.
“Overall, the storm was not as bad as we thought,” Wayne Boseman, president of the Carolinas Cotton Growers Cooperative Inc., said in an email from Garner, North Carolina.
Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher with Colorado State University, said he expects Dorian will end up as one of the longest-running storms, with a 15-day lifespan that sits between hurricanes Felix and Faith, which lasted 15.5 days and 14 days, respectively. On Saturday, Dorian tied Felix at 14. The longest-lasting named storm was Alberto in 2000, which survived for a little more than 19 days, he said.
(Updates with impacts in Canada in fourth paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the name of the Woods Hole Research Center.)
--With assistance from Matthew Bristow, Michael McDonald, Ezra Fieser and Paula Sambo.
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