Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Hurricane Dorian gains strength but changes direction

Powerful storm now looking like it might not make landfall on US east coast

A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Dorian approaching the Bahamas and Florida early on August 31, 2019. NOAA / RAMMB / AFP
A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Dorian approaching the Bahamas and Florida early on August 31, 2019. NOAA / RAMMB / AFP

Hurricane Dorian bore down on the Bahamas as a fierce Category 4 storm on Saturday, with new projections showing it curving upward enough to potentially spare Florida a direct hit but still threatening parts of the south-east United States with powerful winds and rising ocean levels.

Dorian was packing 240 kph winds that forecasters predicted to reach Category 5 speeds of 250 kph later in the day as it menaced the Bahamas.

The storm was expected to hit the north-western part of the islands on Sunday. Over two or three days, it could dump as much as one metre of rain, unleash high winds and whip up an abnormal rise in sea level called storm surge, according to private meteorologist Ryan Maue and computer models.

After walloping the islands, forecasters said the ever-strengthening Dorian is expected to reach the south-eastern US coastline, staying just off Florida's shore and skirting the coast of Georgia, with the possibility of landfall still a threat on Wednesday. It will continue up to South Carolina early on Thursday.

The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said the risk of strong winds and rising water would increase along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts by the middle of the week.

The centre said Dorian could still hit Florida. But after days of a forecast that put the state and President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate at the centre of expected landfalls, the changes are significant.

"It's going to be pretty scary because you're going to have this gigantic hurricane sitting off the coast of Florida and it's not going to move," Mr Maue said. But with the storm slowing and likely to turn north, "the worst effects of a direct landfall are not in the forecast", he said.

"At this point, the track the hurricane centre is issuing is not the catastrophe that could happen, which is good."

Millions of people in Florida have been in the potential paths of the hurricane. Forecasters say Dorian will hover along Florida's east coast on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents not to let their guard down.

"Looking at these forecasts, a bump in one direction or the other could have really significant ramifications in terms of impact. If it bumps further east, that obviously is positive. If it bumps just a little west, then you're looking at really, really significant impacts," DeSantis said.

He added that even if Dorian did not make landfall in Florida, the state could still be affected by "really significant storm surge" as it heads north along the east coast.

Trump has declared a state of emergency in Florida and authorised the Federal Emergency Management Agency to co-ordinate disaster-relief efforts.

As Dorian closed in, Labour Day weekend plans were upended. Major airlines began allowing travellers to change their reservations without fees. The big cruise lines began rerouting their ships. Disney World and Orlando's other resorts could be at risk.

Still, with Dorian days away and its track uncertain, Disney and other major resorts held off announcing any closings, and Florida authorities ordered no immediate mass evacuations.

But some counties told residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying areas to begin leaving on Sunday.

Updated: August 31, 2019 08:03 PM

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