FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hurricane Dorian remained a strong Category 4 storm Saturday evening as it continued its slow march westward toward the Bahamas and Florida.

A tropical storm watch was issued late Saturday for Florida’s east coast from Deerfield Beach north to Sebastian Inlet just north of Vero Beach. The National Hurricane Center said additional watches may be required for other portions of Florida’s east coast on Sunday.

The storm’s projected track remained out to sea, in the 8 p.m. EDT advisory from the hurricane center. But forecasters said that even if Florida is spared a direct hit, much of the state’s east coast could experience at least tropical-force and possibly hurricane-force winds.

A tropical storm watch means winds of 39 to 73 mph are possible within 48 hours.

As of 8 p.m., Dorian continued to pack 150 mph maximum sustained winds, just 7 mph shy of Category 5 status.

The forecast track remained essentially unchanged from the late-morning track, where the center steered clear of Florida and aimed at the Carolinas. The cone of uncertainty, showing possible paths for the storm’s center, excludes Broward and Miami-Dade counties but includes the rest of the Florida coast to the north.

“Since Dorian is forecast to slow down and turn northward as it approaches the coast, life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are still possible along portions of the Florida east coast by the early to middle part of next week,” the hurricane center said Saturday.

Schools will be closed Tuesday in Palm Beach County, which stands to get more severe winds than Broward or Miami-Dade.

No one is sounding the all-clear for South Florida, since the region could still feel the lash of hurricane-force or tropical-force winds. But the likelihood of a direct hit from the Category 4 storm continued to diminish.

 

Palm Beach County, particularly the north coast of the county, has a 10 to 25 percent chance of experiencing hurricane-force winds, which means winds of at least 74 mph, according to a Saturday afternoon briefing by the National Weather Service in Miami. Broward County has a 5 to 15 percent chance.

The odds of tropical-force winds are higher. Coastal Palm Beach County has an 80 to 90 percent chance of experiencing tropical-force winds, coastal Broward has a 60 to 75 percent chance and coastal Miami-Dade has a 30 to 50 percent chance.

Tropical-force winds could arrive Sunday evening and linger through Wednesday morning. Hurricane-force winds, if they arrive, could show up early Monday and last though Tuesday.

On its current course, the storm should be near Florida late Monday or Tuesday, the hurricane center said.

The storm’s wind speeds are expected to strengthen to 155 mph, just short of Category 5 force, before diminishing to 140 mph or so as it nears Florida.

Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, described Dorian as a storm in robust health, a “textbook” hurricane with a well-defined eye that was still growing in strength. While he said the forecast looks better for Florida, the proximity of such a powerful storm still places the coast in danger.

“If you’re in Florida, yes, you can look at it and see that as we’re getting further off the coast, and it seems like good news,” he said late Saturday morning. “But again, at the same time, a 150-mile hurricane. This is a powerful storm. A little closer to us and you could get more impacts. But either way, some places in Florida could see some of that rain, could still see some of those elevated tides with the storm surge, so we’ve just got to pay attention to the latest forecast.”

Possible scenarios for South Florida range from the shrinking but still real possibility of a direct hit by a major hurricane to the chance of heavy wind, rain and waves as the hurricane turns north and just brushes the coast.

Possible rainfall totals have declined as the storm track veered offshore. Most areas are likely to see 2 to 4 inches of rain, with coastal regions seeing 4 to 6 inches. Isolated areas could see 6 to 10 inches.

The so-called “spaghetti models,” the tangle of possible storm paths produced by various meteorological organizations, show a decisive shift toward the Atlantic, with almost all holding the storm’s core offshore until the Carolinas. Some models show no landfall at all, with the storm curling northeast into the middle of the ocean.

The hurricane center said the track could shift farther out to sea in the next few updates, since most model tracks actually lie east of the hurricane center’s current path.

While that appears to be better news for South Florida, most of the state remains in the cone of uncertainty. A key question is how slow the storm moves. It’s expected to slow to a virtual standstill as it reaches the Bahamas, moving forward at just 2 mph. The slower it goes, the more likely it is that the storm’s much-anticipated wheel to the north will take place before it reaches Florida.

“The slower the storm, the further we might inch that track a little toward the east,” Graham said Saturday. “However, let’s be careful with that because Florida’s still in the cone. … Florida could still see some of that onshore flow, the high water, the heavy rainfall and also see the winds. We can’t let our guard down yet.”

Forecasters warn that the margin for error remains significant and that most of Florida’s east coast remained at risk of a devastating strike from a Category 4 storm.

At 8 p.m. Saturday the storm was 335 miles east of West Palm Beach. As expected, its forward movement has slowed substantially, declining from 12 mph earlier Saturday to 8 mph.

Dorian is expected to slow Monday evening as it nears the Florida coast, and make landfall anywhere within the cone possibly as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Floridians that Dorian could be a “multi-day storm.”

The Florida Highway Patrol was escorting gas trucks into the region. Troopers also were loading trucks of bottled water to bring down.

State officials gave away about 1 million gallons of water and had plans to distribute 2 million meals in the Orlando area.

Because Dorian is traveling so slowly, it has plenty of time to keep on growing and intensifying.

“The biggest concern will be Dorian’s slow motion when it is near Florida, placing some areas of the state at an increasing risk of a prolonged, drawn-out event of strong winds, dangerous storm surge and heavy rainfall,” NHC said.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center began monitoring two more systems Saturday.

One is a disorganized area of showers and thunderstorms over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico that is being given a 20 percent chance of formation over the next five days. The other is a tropical wave that has just emerged off the coast of Africa. It is being given a 50 percent chance of forming into a depression or storm through the next five days.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but 95 percent of storms are produced during the peak period from mid-August to late October, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that conditions could be favorable for more dangerous storms than initially projected.

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