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Hurricane Dorian: ‘Extremely dangerous’ storm bears down on Florida

Media captionHurricane Dorian is heading towards Florida – the governor warns of a ‘multi-day event’.

Hurricane Dorian is expected to strengthen into an “extremely dangerous” storm as it heads towards the US mainland, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has warned.

Dorian is currently a category two hurricane but is expected to become a category three later on Friday.

The storm is expected to hit somewhere between Florida and southern Georgia, possibly late on Sunday, the NHC says.

By then, it could be even stronger with winds of more than 130mph (209km/h).

The powerful storm is moving slowly – at just 12 mph (19 km/h) as it crawls north-west across the ocean surface. Hurricanes tend to get stronger as they move over warm water like that off the Florida coast.

Dorian could make landfall on Monday, which is Labor Day – a public holiday in the US. It is widely expected to have reached category four by then, the second-highest rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale and capable of causing “catastrophic damage”.

Some forecasters have drawn comparisons to Hurricane Andrew, a notorious 1992 category five hurricane which devastated Florida.

President Donald Trump was among those making the comparison, and warned Dorian “could be an absolute monster”. He cancelled a planned trip to Poland because of the storm, sending Vice-President Mike Pence instead.

The NHC is warning of an “increasing likelihood of life threatening storm surge” along the Florida coast over the coming days. It has also warned that the heavy rain falling in the Bahamas “may cause life-threatening flash floods”.

Media captionChris Fawkes reports on the track of Hurricane Dorian

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for the whole of the state.

He told residents it was “important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely”, advising them to stock up on at least seven days’ worth of food.

The warnings come after the eye of the storm missed the main island of Puerto Rico, sparing it significant damage, as it headed north-west on Thursday.

What’s the forecast?

As of Friday morning, the storm was packing winds of 105mph and has been predicted to bring up to 12in (30cm) of rain when it reaches land. It is currently some 260 miles (420km) north-east of the south-eastern Bahamas.

Dorian grazed the edge of the main island of Puerto Rico but the US territory’s smaller islands, Vieques and Culebra, have been battered by heavy rain and high winds.

On Wednesday, wind gusts of 111mph were reported close to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, just east of Puerto Rico.

According to the latest update, it should pass “well east” of the south-eastern and central Bahamas on Friday, before moving over or near parts of the north-western Bahamas on Sunday.

  • How do hurricanes form?
  • Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones: What’s the difference?

Forecasters have warned of life-threatening flash flooding and rip-current conditions as the storm moves across the region.

Hurricanes

A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

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