As a strengthened Hurricane Dorian bore down on the Bahamas Saturday, new tracking forecasts suggested the storm would likely turn north before hitting Florida and skirt the coast toward the Carolinas.
But even as Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina braced for a possible hit, forecasters and government officials warned Floridians not to ease up on preparations for a devastating storm early next week.
"Everyone's waking up and saying, ‘Whoa, it's a little farther east, maybe things are OK.’ But we’ve got to be careful at this time,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, on Saturday morning.
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Even offshore, Dorian could bring tropical storm force winds stretching 100 miles from the center and hurricane winds about 20 to 30 miles from the center.
"I've seen a lot of storms bigger than that, but at the same time when it gets close to the coast, people have a tendency just to look at the center, but you have to think of it as bigger,” said Graham.
Still some Floridians were cautiously optimistic. A mandatory evacuation order for Brevard County's barrier island was postponed for by 24 hours – from 8 a.m. Sunday to 8 a.m. Monday – until the hurricane's final track was firmer.
The National Hurricane Center said in its 11 p.m. EDT advisory that Dorian, packing sustained winds of 150 mph as a Category 4 "major" hurricane, was located about 310 miles east of West Palm Beach, slowing to 8 mph.
A tropical storm watch has been issued for part of Florida's east coast, from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian Inlet.
Aug 31 | 11 AM Update: We're not in the clear yet, east central Florida is still in the forecast cone. Preparations for hurricane conditions should continue as planned, especially those living along the coast. pic.twitter.com/2AonsmHzAy
— NWS Melbourne (@NWSMelbourne) August 31, 2019
The NHC said the latest track suggested that the core of Dorian should move over the Atlantic well north of the southeastern and central Bahamas Saturday and near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday. That would put it near the Florida east coast late Monday or Tuesday. That track would put the storm off the coast of South Carolina on Thursday morning.
The biggest danger for the Bahamas, particularly in the northwest, was the slowdown in Dorian's forward speed from 12 mph to 8 mph. That set up a scenario of even more torrential rains as the storm lingered over the archipelago in the Atlantic. In addition, a storm surge could reach as much as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels with onshore winds.
Major cruise lines began rerouting ships and airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without an extra charge.
With the storm's westward path in flux, the NHC also said the risk of strong winds and life-threatening surge was increasing along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina during the middle of next week.
"It should be noted that the new forecast track does not preclude Dorian making landfall on the Florida coast, as large portions of the coast remain in the track cone of uncertainty," the Hurricane Center said.
With an increased threat along the coast, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has declared a state of emergency in his state.
Officials in Martin County on Florida's east coast announced mandatory evacuations for residents of barrier islands and low-laying areas in advance of Hurricane Dorian, beginning Sunday morning.
Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded state of emergency declarations throughout all of Florida's 67 counties and warned Floridians to have a hurricane plan in place.
Shoppers were lining up to buy supplies and water as waits at gas stations grew. Some scattered fuel shortages were reported Friday. Sandbags were also being distributed by local governments. National guard troops are expected to be deployed in the comings days, too.
President Donald Trump, who canceled a trip to Poland to monitor the storm from Camp David, also declared a state of emergency to facilitate federal recovery efforts for the storm's potential destruction.
A prolonged period of storm surge, high winds, and rainfall is possible in portions of Florida into next week, including the possibility of hurricane-force winds over inland portions of the Florida peninsula.
Heavy rains, capable of life-threatening flash floods, are expected over portions of the Bahamas and coastal sections of the southeastern United States this weekend through much of next week. Forecaster said some areas could get up to a foot of rain, with isolated areas hit by up to 15 inches.
"You're looking at a potentially significant water event throughout portions of the state," DeSantis told reporters Friday.
Tropical storm conditions with high-powered winds could arrive as early as Saturday night.
Florida Power and Light, which operates more than 48,000 miles of overhead power lines, activated its emergency response plan and will have nearly 13,000 employees on hand to restore power after the storm, the utility said in a news release Friday. It was also working with utilities across the country to secure additional resources and position crews before the storm hits.
Florida residents scrambled to get last minute provisions. Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, told the Associated Press that she went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section.
“I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened,” she told the news agency. “What’s the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?”
Lauren Harvey, 51, in Vero Beach, told the AP this was her first hurricane alone in Florida and that she felt unprepared.
“I just moved here, so I’m lost,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Contributing: Janine Zeitlin, News-Press; Doyle Rice and Ryan Miller, USA TODAY. The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hurricane Dorian track update: Storm likely to skirt Florida coast