Hurricane Dorian Intensifies – Now Headed Towards the Bahamas and Florida

Hurricane Dorian has recently intensified into a hurricane as it tracks across the eastern Caribbean (Figure 1). It is currently tracking northwest across the US and British Virgin Islands and is likely to continue in that general direction as it heads towards the Turks and Caicos and then the Bahamas. After that point, a strong ridge of high pressure is forecast to build to the north of the hurricane, causing it to turn more westward and heads towards Florida. It is still too early to be sure exactly where Dorian will track, but the east coast of Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States should be getting prepared now for a potentially very significant storm.

Dorian is predicted to be moving through a very conducive environment for further intensification, with very warm water temperatures and low levels of vertical wind shear (the change in wind direction with height). Too much shear tears apart hurricanes, and low levels of wind shear foster additional development. The forecast from the National Hurricane Center predicts that Dorian will be a major hurricane (Category 3+) as it approaches the east coast of Florida on Monday (Figure 2). Dorian is currently a small hurricane with hurricane-force winds extending only about 20 miles away from the center. Most models do predict that Dorian will grow in size as it tracks through the Bahamas and then towards the southeastern United States.

It remains to be seen exactly how strong Dorian will be when it makes landfall, but the threat to the southeastern United States has grown over the past couple of days. In addition to strong winds and storm surge, Dorian is forecast to be a slow-moving hurricane once it approaches the coast. This increases the chances that Dorian will produce copious amounts of rainfall. The Weather Prediction Center of NOAA is estimating that 3-6” of rainfall will fall along most of the east coast of Florida, with potential isolated amounts approaching 10”.

While there is considerable track uncertainty with a five-day forecast, the current forecast position takes Dorian onshore near the Space Coast of Florida. If that forecast verifies and Dorian makes landfall there as a major hurricane, it would be the first major hurricane to make landfall along the east coast of Florida north of Stuart, FL on record (since 1851) (Figure 3).

Figure 1: High resolution visible satellite image of Hurricane Dorian on August 28, 2019.

Figure 2: Forecast from the National Hurricane Center for Hurricane Dorian as of 2pm EDT on August 28, 2019.

Figure 3: Florida hurricane landfall locations since 1851.

About the Author:
Dr. Phil Klotzbach has received national and international attention for his work in researching weather patterns and forecasting hurricanes. He currently is lead author on Colorado State University’s Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts which he releases every year with his colleague Dr. Michael Bell.