Hurricane Dorian slows in Bahamas; unlikely to hit Florida directly

Topics Hurricane

Strong winds move the palms of the palm trees at the first moment of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Sunday Sept. 1, 2019. AP/PTI
Hurricane Dorian has slowed to a crawl over the Bahamas, and will likely inflict colossal damage to property and infrastructure there for most of the day before gradually turning to the northwest to begin a run up the US East Coast.

Dorian was moving forward at just 1 mile per hour, according to a 11 a.m. advisory by the US National Hurricane Center. It was packing sustained speeds of 155 mph, dropping it to Category 4 status, the center reported. Located about 25 miles (56 kilometers) north-northeast of Grand Bahama Island, Dorian has ripped off roofs, overturned cars and torn down power lines across the chain of islands, the Associated Press reported.

By late Monday evening and early Tuesday, the storm is expected to move “dangerously close” to the Florida shoreline, the hurricane center reported. But Dorian’s slow forward motion probably takes a direct hit on Florida’s coast off the table, said Adam Douty, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

“It seems less likely that we will see a landfall in Florida,” Douty said by telephone. “The outer edge of the eye wall could brush Cape Canaveral.” Its current projected turn would also bring it close to the St. Lucie nuclear power station, home to two nuclear reactors owned by Nextera Energy Inc.’s subsidiary Florida Power & Light.

Dorian, which previously hit sustained winds as high as 185 mph, will churn up cooler water from the deep Atlantic, and that will help weaken it, according to the hurricane center, but it will remain "extremely dangerous." Dorian’s wind field is predicted to expand, which would bring hurricane-force winds closer to the east coast of Florida, the center reported.

The current forecast keeps Dorian’s center offshore but “it doesn’t take much, a little wobble, a little wiggle and you have hurricane-force winds on shore,” said Ken Graham, hurricane center director, in a live Facebook briefing. In any case, the slow motion of the storm and its track up the East Coast means the US won’t get relief for days.

“We’re talking a hurricane for an entire week,” Graham said.

$25 Billion in Losses

Dorian will cause at least $25 billion of insurance losses, according to analysts at UBS Group AG, the costliest of any natural disaster since 2017. Depending on whether it hits the eastern coast of Florida in the next few days, the storm could cost as much as $40 billion, they said.

Roughly 100,000 of the Bahamas population of 370,000 live in areas that are expected to be hit. Based on preliminary reports out of Abaco, where landfall occurred, “the devastation is unprecedented,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said early Monday on Twitter.

An 8-year-old boy drowned in Abaco, his grandmother told local television station Eyewitness News. Authorities have not confirmed the death, the station said. The Bahamas Press said that Grand Bahama International Airport is under 5 feet of water.

The damage to some of the region’s large tourist hotels will likely hit revenue in a country where tourism accounts for about half of gross domestic product, said Andrew Stanners, Investment Director for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns the nation’s dollar bonds. The Bahamas has recently taken “strident steps” to improve government finances, which leave it better placed to repair the devastation, he said.

There are also two major petroleum terminals in the Bahamas. Buckeye Partners LP operates a large crude and refined products terminal at Freeport, roughly 100 miles from the Florida coast, and Equinor ASA has a terminal in nearby South Riding Point. The Buckeye terminal has a capacity of 26 million barrels of crude, gasoline and diesel, the Equinor terminal has a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate.

Buckeye media contacts didn’t respond to multiple emails seeking comment. Equinor was in the process of shutting its terminal ahead of Dorian, the company said.

The Bahamian government was preparing orders to allow donated relief supplies to move quickly to areas that need it most, local Eyewitness News reported.

In Florida, storm surge warnings extended northward along the Florida coast to the Flagler/Volusia County line and a watch has been posted along the Georgia coast to the Savannah River. A hurricane warning remains in effect for the Jupiter Inlet, also up to Volusia/Brevard.

In a briefing, Florida Governor Ron De Santis said Florida Gas & Electric, which serves much of the state, has assembled 17,000 personnel to help restore power quickly as needed. He said 72 nursing homes and assisted living centers along the coast have been evacuated, and hospitals were starting to evacuate as well.

Meanwhile, airlines have canceled 1,500 flights within, into and out of the US today. The most impacted airport is Fort Lauderdale International with 530, or about 73% of flights canceled.

Fluctuations in weather patterns across the US and Atlantic mean Dorian could hit Florida or further up the coast in Georgia or the Carolinas later this week — or not make landfall at all. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, including for the Mar-a-Lago club owned by Donald Trump, which the president often uses as a “Winter White House.”

“Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week,” Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the center wrote in an analysis. “Only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast.”


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