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Dorian Becomes Category 4 Hurricane on Slow Path Toward Florida

Brian K. Sullivan and Jonathan Levin
Dorian Becomes Category 4 Hurricane on Slow Path Toward Florida

(Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Dorian became a Category 4 storm it continues its slow progress toward Florida, with forecaster models indicating it has the potential to stall near the coast or even fail to make landfall in the state at all.

The hurricane’s center was about 575 miles (925 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach, Florida, as of 8:30 p.m. New York time. Its maximum sustained winds reached near 130 miles per hour, making it a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale and “extremely dangerous,” according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

The storm is now slowing down and forecast to make potential landfall north of Port St. Lucie, Florida on Tuesday morning, with a warning that some models now indicate the storm may turn before reaching the state. Rainfall in the Bahamas may reach as high as 20 inches in some place, with estimates of as much as 18 inches along the U.S. coast.

“The models have not been very consistent from run to run in terms of the timing of the northward turn, but there are more models now indicating that the turn could occur near the east coast of Florida instead of well inland,” the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory Friday.

The National Weather Service is launching extra weather balloons and scraping every extra piece of information it can grab to try to figure out what the weather patterns across North America and the Atlantic will be early next week. Those patterns will decide if Dorian is steered into Florida or just skirts the coastline.

If Dorian turns at the last minute and runs parallel to the coast it will still pump flooding rains across the state and perhaps even further north into Georgia and South Carolina. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew veered away from Florida, leaving massive destruction throughout Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina from torrential rains.

If it does come ashore in Florida, the storm may hit just north of Palm Beach County, home of the fourth-richest zip code in the U.S., based on Bloomberg data. Dorian could be about a $40 billion or $50 billion dollar storm, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research.

‘Cone of Uncertainty’

The center of the storm’s “cone of uncertainty” is north of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump canceled a planned trip to Poland this weekend because of the storm.

Trump said they are “thinking about Florida evacuation but it’s a little bit too soon.” That decision will probably be made on Sunday, he told reporters as he prepared to leave for a weekend in Camp David. “Florida seems to be the main target,” the president said, giving the storm a 5% chance of missing the state.

The storm may sit over the same area “for a couple of days,” bringing prolonged flooding, and it will produce a dangerous storm surge possibly in excess of 8 feet near its landfall and to the northeast of that point, said Steve Goldstein, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The storm may hold together next week as it tracks north, so southeastern Georgia and parts of South Carolina should beware, he said.

Governor Ron DeSantis activated 2,500 Florida National Guard troops and 1,500 have been told to be prepared, according to a press release Friday. More than a dozen schools districts and colleges have announced they will close.

The governor’s office also said that tolls will be lifted in relevant areas if and when evacuations are ordered, though that’s not currently the case. Meanwhile, Florida Highway Patrol is escorting fuel trucks to get supplies where they are needed.

“This is a major event,” DeSantis said at a press conference Friday, noting that the track still remained highly uncertain. “We’ve just got to be prepared for all those circumstances.”

Two high pressure systems could pin Dorian between them as it nears the coast or gets on shore and that could create a situation similar to what happened when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Texas bringing record rainfall, said Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group outside Philadelphia.

“At this point Monday it will slow down considerably, it will come to a crawl because we are getting the Bermuda high over the Atlantic and the high over the southern Plains,” Rouiller said. “They are basically going to be tugging at Dorian and it doesn’t know which way to go.”

By the end of next week there could be two more hurricanes in the Atlantic, Rouiller said. “these will track similar to Dorian and I still think we are under the gun beyond that,” he said.

To map assets in Hurricane Dorian’s path, click here

Florida’s electric utility companies lined up personnel and equipment in anticipation of “significant” power failures. NextEra Energy Inc. subsidiary Florida Power & Light has 13,000 workers ready to respond and said it was reaching out to utilities in other states to secure additional crews and equipment.

Some gasoline stations were starting to run empty as residents prepared for the storm and the city of Miami said it was removing dockless scooters from its streets to avoid them becoming projectiles in high winds. A few oil companies began to evacuate non-essential workers from platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, which shouldn’t affect production.

--With assistance from Sharon Cho, Mark Chediak, David Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove and Alyza Sebenius.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net;Jonathan Levin in Miami at jlevin20@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tina Davis at tinadavis@bloomberg.net

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