Tropical Storm Dorian strengthens as it heads to Puerto Rico

National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center

Tropical Storm Dorian regrouped early Wednesday, with a new center to the north putting its predicted track straight through Puerto Rico.

Wednesday’s 5 a.m. advisory from the hurricane center shows the storm has strengthened, with maximum sustained winds at 60 miles per hour as it approaches Puerto Rico.

On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for the island ahead of the storm making landfall.

The latest forecast track also points Dorian toward a potential Florida landfall somewhere near Cape Canaveral — but forecasters caution it was much too soon to pinpoint impacts along the Florida coast. Forecasters say it’s still too early to tell what kind of weather Florida will have Labor Day weekend, when the storm is expected to be near the Bahamas.

Dorian still had Puerto Rico to contend with and crossing over its mountains, though they are not as high as neighboring Hispaniola, could weaken the storm. At 11 p.m., forecasters said the chances of it hitting somewhere on the east coast of Florida has increased.

“Slow strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours, and Dorian is forecast to be near hurricane strength when it approaches Puerto Rico on Wednesday,” forecasters wrote.

The people of Puerto Rico, still recovering two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria, have been stocking up on supplies since Monday morning, preparing for the worst. Puerto Rico’s governor declared a local state of emergency Monday night. The island is currently under a hurricane watch.

“As of today, the response of the government is different from before this emergency,” Wanda Vázquez Garced, the island’s governor, said in Spanish during a news conference. “What we want to say is that before a situation gets close, the response of the government and the different agencies will be different because yes, they are ready.”

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After Puerto Rico, Dorian is expected to move near eastern Hispaniola Wednesday night. The Dominican Republic is under a tropical storm watch on the northern coast from Samana to Puerto Plata.

The Bahamas and most of Florida are also in the storm’s cone of uncertainty, which means there’s a potential for tropical storm force winds and heavy rain, according to Tuesday’s advisory.

If Dorian manages to clear Puerto Rico and Hispaniola and remain mostly intact, it could encounter good conditions for strengthening, including warm water and low wind shear.

For now, the NHC forecast maintains it at tropical storm strength as it approaches the Florida coast sometime Sunday afternoon but until Dorian clears the islands, there will be considerable uncertainty about its intensity later in the week.

For now, the NHC was forecasting 3 to 5 inches of rain in Florida, with an isolated 7 inches. The National Weather Service said South Florida could see wind and rain effects from Dorian starting later this week and through the weekend.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted Tuesday that “all residents on the East Coast should prepare for impacts, including strong winds, heavy rain and flooding.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Tropical Storm warnings in several Caribbean islands had been discontinued. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said the warning had been discontinued for Barbados at 2 a.m., and preliminary reports indicated that power lines were down in some communities and fallen trees were causing road blocks in some areas.

In Martinique, which already saw Dorian pass, flooding was reported along a major highway, and two rivers in the southern town of Rivière-Pilote also overflowed. A bus traveling in the area got stuck in a flash flood.

Jerry Chandler, the head of Haïti’s Office of Civil Protection, said “we are expecting rainfall even though the trajectory is north west now and should be similar to Maria in 2017. So we are bracing for heavy rains nationwide.”

Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line announced Tuesday the company is diverting two ships to avoid Tropical Storm Dorian.

In a port stop reshuffle, New York-based Carnival Sunrise will sail to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, on Saturday, and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos on Monday before returning to New York.

Carnival Breeze, based in Orlando’s Port Canaveral, will skip its San Juan stop altogether, previously scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 28.

Miami Herald staff writers Taylor Dolven, Carli Teproff and Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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Alex Harris covers climate change for the Miami Herald, including how South Florida communities are adapting to the warming world. She attended the University of Florida.