National News

Hurricane Dorian Updates: Strengthening Storm Eyes Georgia and Carolinas

Posted August 31, 2019 9:28 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2019 9:31 p.m. EDT

Workers install window coverings in Palm Beach, Fla., in preparation for Hurricane Dorian on Friday morning, Aug. 30, 2019. Forecasters expect Hurricane Dorian to arrive somewhere along the east coast of Florida on Monday afternoon. (Saul Martinez/The New York Times)

The storm is forecast to slam the Bahamas and then turn north.

Hurricane Dorian is slowing to a crawl as it approaches the Bahamas, where it is forecast to remain until it takes a sharp swerve north along Florida’s eastern coast sometime on Monday. The Category 4 storm could make landfall in Georgia or the Carolinas as late as Thursday after losing some of its strength.

It was good news for Floridians, who could now be spared a direct hit. But the powerful storm is still dangerous, and much of the state remains in the area that forecasters believe could be assailed by heavy winds, rain and storm surge.

A stretch of Florida’s Atlantic coast from Deerfield Beach to the Sebastian Inlet was placed under a tropical storm watch Saturday afternoon, indicating the possibility of strong winds in the next 48 hours.

Dorian was about 355 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday, sustaining winds of about 150 mph. It was upgraded to a Category 4 system late Friday and as of Saturday afternoon was approaching Category 5 speeds (over 156 mph).

Forecasters have had to adjust both when and where Dorian may crash into the mainland United States several times in the past few days, baffling officials and residents trying to make preparations.

The storm was advancing very slowly, at 8 mph, which could be especially damaging to the Bahamas, said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm is forecast to sit on top of the archipelago starting Sunday, dumping copious amounts of rain.

“This is becoming a long-duration nail-biter for folks along the southeastern United States,” said David Bibo, deputy associate administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s office of response and recovery.

There was a silver lining, however: The storm’s slow pace will give people more time to get ready for a hit, Bibo said.


Dorian is expected to hit the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday.

In the Bahamas, residents of the archipelago’s northwestern islands braced for a direct hit from Dorian as the government ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas.

Grand Bahama Island and the Abaco Islands were expected to take the brunt of the storm Sunday. The National Hurricane Center warned that because the storm’s movement had slowed, the area should prepare for “a prolonged period of life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane force winds.”

The surge could be over 15 feet high, and exacerbated by the spring tide, Bahamian officials said.

“The hurricane will produce catastrophic results,” Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency, said at a news conference Friday.

The area lying in Dorian’s path is not a major center for tourism, although several cruise ships diverted their routes to avoid the storm. The few hotels in the region are largely closed for the low season.


In South Carolina, the new forecasts were an unwelcome surprise.

Residents and visitors in Charleston, South Carolina, woke up Saturday to a newly shifted storm track and a potential direct hit by midweek. Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency by noon. Similar declarations have been issued for coastal Georgia and North Carolina, though evacuations have not yet been ordered.

“Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario,” McMaster said in a statement. “There is no reason for delay.”

Near Charleston, Folly Beach was seeing a steady stream of visitor traffic despite blustery weather. Lines were manageable at a Harris Teeter grocery store and gas station, and stocks of gas, food and water were still holding up. Dustin Danner, 39, a tractor equipment manager, was filling a boat with gasoline to serve as a spare fuel supply and helping prepare the home of a friend, who was out of town.

“I really didn’t check into his house until 1 a.m.,” Danner said. “At that point Dorian was going to hit Florida and bounce back out. This morning you wake up and it’s a whole different thing.”


It’s too soon for Floridians to let their guard down.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida welcomed Dorian’s eastward shift but warned that the forecast remains uncertain.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said Saturday afternoon from the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee, the capital.

The tropical storm watch is likely to extend north in coming advisories, he said, emphasizing that a slight westward shift could bring Dorian ashore. “We are staying prepared, and we’re remaining vigilant,” he said.

He asked residents to heed local orders for mandatory evacuations, which are in place along some coastal communities in Brevard County, in the Space Coast. An earlier evacuation order for parts of Martin County, in the Treasure Coast, was rescinded. Jared Moskowitz, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, recalled Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which hugged the state’s Atlantic coast in a path similar to one Dorian could take. Matthew still washed out entire parts of roads.

DeSantis asked Floridians to keep the neighboring Bahamas in their thoughts.

“Say a prayer for the people there, because they’re about to face something that is mighty strong,” he said.


Stay or go? The hurricane presents a tough choice.

Florida residents are wrestling with the financial, logistical and psychological calculations of whether to stay or go. And local and state officials are staring down the meteorological and political calculations of whether to order evacuations that carry risks no matter what.

“Here’s the dilemma with evacuation: He who orders it, owns it,” said Russel L. Honore, a retired Army lieutenant general who earned acclaim for leading the military response to Hurricane Katrina.

For many households, the cost of evacuation and finding a place to stay is a major factor. Others must weigh the mobility of aging family members, pets, and children, and the type of structure they call home. In 2019, there is also the challenge of making sense of Too Much Information, from breathless news and social media updates to relatives with an opinion.

DeSantis, the governor, said shoulders on Interstate 95 had been cleared for traffic and would be open when local evacuation orders were issued. The state, he said, would largely advise rather than direct local officials on whether to tell residents to flee.

“You will see evacuations. I’m confident of that,” he said, adding: “But we’re not going to be telling every county, ‘Tell everybody to leave,’ because that may create some problems as well.”


Events and travel plans have been upended.

Orlando International Airport (MCO) will halt commercial flights Monday beginning at 2 a.m., the airport announced on Twitter on Friday. Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB) will also close after the last flight departs Sunday night and it will remain closed until further notice, airport officials said.

In a statement Friday, Disney said that although Walt Disney World Resort was operating under normal conditions, weekend sporting events would be canceled and its Blizzard Beach Water Park would be closed Sunday.

A Rolling Stones concert planned for Saturday in Miami was moved up to Friday night, having already been rescheduled from an April date.

The band began the evening with the 1968 hit “Jumping Jack Flash,” an apt choice for its opening lyrics: “I was born in a crossfire hurricane / And I howled at the maw in the driving rain.”

The skies opened up as they played their first encore, “Gimme Shelter.” As they took their bows at the end, all four band members, their shirts soaked, looked up at the rain and laughed.


The storm is putting forecasters to the test.

Eric Blake is hooked on weather. This is his 20th hurricane season at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, where he is one of the 10 specialists who have spent the past few days huddled over their computer monitors analyzing radar, surface information, wind speeds and other pieces of data on Dorian.

Despite all their tools — and the two hurricane hunter planes in the thick of the storm — Blake admits he isn’t sure where it will land.

“It’s unbelievably complex,” Blake said. “You use set of equations and physics to get the best possible forecast, but you always have to make approximations and best guesses. There are also limitations to science.”

New model projections come in every six hours, he explained, and tiny errors have big consequences.

“If you are off by 1 or 2 miles per hour, it doesn’t sound like a lot,” Blake said. But “over five days, you are talking 240 miles potentially. This has been a difficult storm to forecast. I don’t think we are going to be ready to cement any of these forecasts any time soon.”

Blake warned that even though the latest models offered good news for South Floridians, storms at higher latitudes — even lower-category ones — tend to be bigger, exposing more swaths of land to storm surge and rain.

The jet streams that push hurricanes toward their destinations are relatively weak in this case, said Mike Brennan, who leads the hurricane specialist unit. That means Dorian may move more erratically, Brennan said, posing a challenge to forecasters hundreds of miles away.

With so little clarity, viewers armed with radar images, hurricane models and air pressure numbers are marching onto the Facebook and Twitter pages of forecasters’ stations and demanding more precise information, challenging their predictions and sometimes even accusing them of misleading the public.


South Florida is full of valuable art. Crews are rushing to protect it.

On Saturday morning, a small fleet of hospital-white trucks with special climate controls and super-sensitive shock absorbers headed to the mansions of Palm Beach to take dozens of paintings worth millions of dollars out of harm’s way.

The trucks were from the Museo Vault, one of several art warehouses in Miami that have been swarmed by wealthy collectors and art museums as Dorian thrashes toward the United States.

When the Vault opened 11 years ago, Miami was well on its way toward becoming an international art destination. Several world-class museums have opened in recent years and private collections have been expanding. And while fears of deadly winds have eased with Dorian’s expected shift northward, powerful surges of seawater and driving rain are still a threat to the many works of art in South Florida’s cultural institutions.

“Our biggest concern now is the storm surge,” said Vanessa Amor, the business manager of Museo Vault, a five-story fortified concrete bastion of Picassos, Chagalls, Latin American Masters and other treasures in Miami’s Wynwood art district. “Many of our clients live on the water.”

Most of the Vault’s work on Thursday and Friday was in Miami. But as the forecasts changed, workers found themselves further north. In Palm Beach on Saturday, the Vault’s crews were loading the white trucks with paintings at two oceanfront mansions, bound for the warehouse in Miami. At another Palm Beach home, workers were moving paintings to a windowless, second-floor room. “Some of our clients don’t want their art to leave,” Amor said.

It wasn’t just paintings that needed protecting. The company wrapped a dozen bronze, aluminum and steel outdoor sculptures in blankets and plastic. One couple brought in items themselves — over four cardboard boxes of expensive glass vases from their home on a small offshore island. They’d come with three 19th-century European paintings and some Persian carpets last week, they said.

The vault is expecting a lot of business after the storm. “The electricity gets knocked out,” Amor said. “There’s no air conditioning and the artwork starts cooking.”


Isn’t Dorian kind of an unusual name for a storm?

You don’t meet a Dorian every day. Fewer than three out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States last year were given that name, according to the Social Security Administration.

The title character of Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was no one you’d be likely to name a child after, and only a tiny handful of Dorians have achieved any fame as singers, actors or athletes. However, Dorian was the surname of Zach Braff’s character on “Scrubs.”

So how did the name get attached to a major hurricane?

Tropical storm and hurricane names come from annual alphabetical lists drawn up by the World Meteorological Organization. There are six such lists in rotation, so names recur every six years. But when a storm proves to be especially notorious, damaging and deadly, that name is retired — there won’t be another Katrina, Harvey, Maria or Sandy — and is replaced with another beginning with the same letter. That has happened 74 times since World War II.

Most of the names used for Atlantic storms are familiar ones to American ears, but a few relative rarities have come to be sprinkled in the lists as substitutes for retired names. The I’s have had especially high turnover — Ione, Inez, Iris, Isabel, Ivan, Ike, Igor, Irene, Ingrid and Irma have all been scratched — so the six “I” names currently in rotation include Idalia and Isaias as well as the more often encountered Isaac, Ida, Ian and Imelda.

Dorian is the first relatively uncommon “D” name to join the lists. It was chosen after the 2007 season to replace Dean, the name of a Category 5 storm that blasted through the Caribbean and Central America that year, leading to some 45 deaths.

There was a Tropical Storm Dorian in 2013, but it did minimal damage and was not blamed for any deaths. So the hurricane bearing down on Florida in 2019 is Dorian the second — and if it proves disastrous, perhaps the last.