Hurricane Dorian, still Cat. 5, expected to continue assault on Bahamas before heading north

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— Dorian, still a life-threatening Category 5 hurricane, is expected to stay in the Bahamas on Monday before making its way closer to the United States. Dorian is already creating strong rip currents off North Carolina’s coast, but it shouldn’t impact our state until Wednesday night or Thursday.

On Sunday at 12:45 p.m., Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas’ Elbow Cay. Maximum sustained winds reached 185 mph along with wind gusts up to 220 mph, tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall.

Dorian is expected to turn to the north late Monday or early Tuesday and should weaken to a Category 4 by that time. By Tuesday, models show Dorian moving north in the Atlantic, parallel to the coastline. Dorian could weaken to a Category 3 storm by Wednesday as it loses intensity.

Tracking the Tropics

By Wednesday night or Thursday, Dorian is expected to affect central North Carolina and the coast. At that time, it could impact South Carolina and North Carolina, dropping heavy rain along the the coast and bringing strong winds.

North Carolina timing

Whether or not Hurricane Dorian makes landfall on North Carolina’s coast, effects are likely to be felt Wednesday through Thursday, with the strongest impacts Thursday night and Friday morning.

On Friday, the storm is expected to turn and move out to sea.

Dorian may or may not make landfall on the coast.

A few lines in a scatter model indicate that Dorian could make landfall in North Carolina, while most tracks show the storm moving off into the Atlantic Ocean.

The coast, the Triangle and Charlotte are all within the storm’s cone, meaning landfall is still possible there. “Since the cone includes the coast, and Raleigh, we have to keep a close eye on this,” WRAL meteorologist Peta Sheerwood said.

Depending on the storm’s path, central North Carolina could see tropical storm force winds around 45 or 50 mph by 2 p.m. Thursday. North Carolina’s coast could experience even stronger winds of 70 to 90 mph.

Dorian impacts

Sheerwood said rainfall totals “look impressive,” with some coastal areas expected to get as much as 10 inches. Officials in North Carolina and South Carolina are already asking beachgoers to stay out of the ocean, as Dorian is kicking up rip currents there.

Preparations underway

From Florida to North Carolina, residents and government officials have been preparing for possible impacts of Dorian for days, even as the official forecast has the center of the storm staying offshore.

The Category 5 hurricane’s nearly unprecedented strength has people aware that even a tiny error in the forecast could be catastrophic.

Hurricane Dorian Updates: Storm Strengthens on Path to Strike Florida

“We may not do anything. But we have to be ready for it,” said Neil Baxley, commander of emergency services in coastal South Carolina’s Beaufort County. “We are deep in the error cone.”‘

The gas lines and people queued up with carts outside grocery stores weren’t seen Sunday along the southeast U.S. coast.

Instead, people were watching and waiting to see the destruction from the northern Bahamas, where Dorian made landfall on the Abaco Islands.

“I’m thanking God now that it has turned a little more to the east. But that’s a forecast. We never know,” said Kevin Browning, who was at the Vero Beach Home Depot looking for supplies after putting up his hurricane shutters Friday. “I feel for the Bahamas and I’m praying for them.”

Some evacuations have already begun in Florida, where the governor suspended tolls. Father up the coast, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held a short news conference where he wouldn’t say when he might make a decision on evacuations and the main goal seemed to be to promise officials were on top of things.

South Carolina has ordered evacuations in each of the past three hurricane seasons and with just one storm making landfall during that time — Michael in 2016 — there is storm weariness in the state.

McMaster asked residents to stay tuned.

“We don’t have a solid prediction as to where it might turn, where it might not turn when it will get here. But we assure you we have the best minds and the most experienced and talented people working around the clock,” the governor said.