Hurricane Dorian: Mandatory evacuations as Cat 4 storm moves closer to Florida, Georgia, Carolinas

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Hurricane Dorian lashes Grand Bahama incessantly as it moves west at just 1 mph. A northward turn is expected late Monday into Tuesday.

Florida stares today into the gaping maw of an atmosphere unhinged, a merciless Cat 4 hurricane still gnawing on the limestone bones of the northern Bahamas after a day-long mauling.

8 p.m. update: Hurricane Dorian’s winds have decreased slightly as the Category 4 storm remains stationary over the Bahamas on Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters say the powerful storm’s winds are now 140 mph. The historic hurricane is expected to begin a northwestern momentum into the morning, bringing it “dangerously close” to Florida late Tuesday through Wednesday night.

The weather service anticipates the storm will move close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts between Wednesday and Thursday.

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Hurricane-force winds extend 45 miles from Dorian’s center.

Preparations for Dorian’s collision with the coast should be complete with wind speeds of between 40 mph and 74 mph expected to begin this morning.

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EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS

On Monday, the White House announced that on Sunday, President Donald Trump approved emergency declarations for Georgia and South Carolina.

The declarations authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Trump was briefed on the hurricane during a visit to FEMA headquarters in Washington on Sunday.

The president urged everyone in Dorian’s path to obey warnings and evacuation orders issued by local authorities, saying public safety “must always come first.”

Trump approved an emergency declaration for Florida on Friday.

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EVACUATIONS

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a mandatory evacuation for six Coastal Georgia counties Sunday night ahead of Hurricane Dorian. All residents who live east of Interstate 95 in Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh counties must evacuate. Westerly contraflow on Interstate 16 will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The evacuation order takes effect at noon Monday.

“Stay vigilant and safe,” a Sunday night tweet from Kemp read.

Coastal South Carolina is under a mandatory evacuation order effective at noon.

As of 8 a.m. Monday, no evacuations had been ordered for Southeastern North Carolina.

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ARRIVAL

National Weather Service meteorologists in Miami said there is a “reasonable risk of hurricane-force winds in coastal and metro Palm Beach county between Monday night and Tuesday evening.”

Hope of a reprieve for the Sunshine State from Dorian’s 200-mph wind gusts lies with the intervention of a weak upper level low pressure system over the Eastern U.S. that forecasters are still confident will nudge a nearly stalled Dorian away from the state.

The National Weather Service in Melbourne said Dorian will drift west to northwest very slowly today, and then turn to the northwest later tonight. The storm will then begin to move northwest to north-northwest on Tuesday offshore of the Treasure Coast.

As of 8 a.m., Dorian was moving west at just 1 mph – adrift in a stalled flow with no steering currents.

The  forecast expects tropical storm-force winds to reach the Jacksonville area overnight Tuesday.

GEORGIA: Tropical storm-force winds should arrive Tuesday morning.

NORTH CAROLINA: Tropical storm-force winds could reach the Wilmington, North Carolina, area as early as Wednesday night. That level of winds could bring power outages, damage to fragile structures and downed trees, the weather service said.

The center said that the coasts of North and South Carolina could see 5 to 10 inches of rain through the end of the week. The forecast noted up to 15 inches of rain could fall in some spots.

TRACK

The pause is another devastating blow to Grand Bahama, which will further endure Dorian’s rage through today and tonight.

The track of Dorian has fluctuated little since Sunday, but has inched north so that cities in Palm Beach County south of North Palm Beach are no longer in the forecast cone.

A hard northward turn is expected overnight into Tuesday morning, making for an assault on Palm Beach County that could last into Wednesday when tropical storm-force winds will begin to taper off.

Juno Beach and Jupiter were already feeling tropical storm gusts Monday morning with a 47-mph wind reported at the pier.

“To see a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane closing in on our 3rd most populous state is wildly unnerving,” said meteorologist and strategic planner for FEMA Micahel Lowry in a social media post.

Any small deviation to the left of the track could bring dangerous winds closer to or onto the Florida coast.

“The timing of the northwest turn is very critical in determining how close Dorian will get to the Florida peninsula on Tuesday and Wednesday,” said senior hurricane specialist John Cangialosi.

And areas outside the cone will feel still feel Dorian’s wrath.

A storm surge warning is in effect for Lantana through the Treasure Coast. Surge experts are expecting the coast to be chewed by lashing waves and between 3 and 6 feet of pounding water on top of them.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Deerfield Beach to the Jupiter Inlet.

Robert Molleda, the warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS in Miami, said in a briefing that a worse-case scenario under the current forecast includes coastal Palm Beach County experiencing hurricane-force wind gusts of Category 1 or 2 strength.

“If the turn is delayed just a little bit, hurricane-force winds could make it all the way to the east coast of Florida, especially Palm Beach County,” he said. “We can’t assume the forecast track is going to occur exactly as forecast.”

Even storm experts are in awe of the Dorian forecast that puts a dangerous Category 5 on Florida’s doorstep, without punching inland.

Brian McNoldy, a researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Atmospheric Science, called the faith on forecast models “borderline insane.”

“The amount of faith we place in equations coded up and run on computers is borderline insane,” he said on social media.

Images from the northern Bahamas show complete devastation with storm surge washing over the islands up to 20 feet deep, cars tossed like toys and roofs pried from homes.

Dorian is the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall anywhere in the Bahamas when it hit with 185 mph winds Monday, according to Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was the second strongest with 160-mph winds.

The Bahamas Press reported this morning that Grand Bahama International Airport is under 5 feet of water and that Dorian has taken at least one life – an 8-year-old boy, according to the Press.

But there are likely more.

“The concern is nobody knows how many people died, and they feel when the water subsides some bodies will be washed out to sea,” the Bahamas Press quotes an unnamed source from Abaco as saying.

A 6 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center urged residents on Grand Bahama to stay in their shelters when Dorian’s 20-miles wide eye passes over because the winds will rapidly increase on the other side.

Scott Lewis, founder of the West Palm Beach-based Eagles’ Wings Foundation, said he has 10 small planes ready to fly out of Lantana Airport with emergency supplies for the Abacos.

“We have to wait for the runways to clear but we have also been talking with a lot of locals and it’s just stunning, the devastation,” Lewis said.

Kmiller@pbpost.com

@Kmillerweather