Tropical Storm Dorian to cross Puerto Rico, and may make landfall in Florida as Cat 3

UPDATE: Dorian is officially a Category 1 hurricane, according to the latest update from the National Hurricane Center, and could make landfall in Florida on Monday as a Category 3 storm.

A stronger Dorian is on track to skim Puerto Rico’s east coast on Wednesday, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane, and could develop into a Category 3 hurricane by the time it nears Florida’s coast Monday morning.

“All indications are that by this Labor Day weekend, a powerful hurricane will be near the Florida or southeastern coast of the United States,” NHC forecasters wrote.

Strengthened overnight to near hurricane level, the storm now has maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and is expected to bring up to six inches of rain to Puerto Rico and the U.S. British Virgin Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center. Isolated areas could see up to 10 inches of rain and life-threatening flash floods, surf and rip current conditions will be possible.

Dorian is about 25 miles southeast of St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the hurricane’s center 11 a.m. Wednesday advisory.

The track shows the center of the storm passing over or near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands later Wednesday as a Catgeory 1 hurricane. Nearly all of the intensity models show Dorian becoming a stronger hurricane in about two days, when it passes near or to the east of the Turks and Caicos islands and the Bahamas by Friday and Saturday, according to the advisory. Forecasters warn the storm could grow in size after it clears Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

By the time Dorian nears Florida’s east coast, it could be a Category 3 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds at 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

National Hurricane Center

Forecasters say the “threat of tropical storm or hurricane conditions” in the northwestern Bahamas and along portions of the Florida east coast have increased, but it’s still too early to know exactly how — or where — Florida will be affected. But the storm could bring heavy rain up and down the state over the weekend. That’s just in time for the second King Tide of the season, a higher than usual high tide that usually brings intense flooding to low-lying regions.

“Please continue to monitor the progress of Dorian through the week,” the National Weather Service said in its South Florida hazardous weather outlook Wednesday. “Now is a good time to make sure your household hurricane plan is in order.”

The National Weather Service advised this week that Florida could see drenching rain and maybe even flooding from Dorian later this week and into early next week. NHC forecasters expect four to eight inches of rain, with isolated areas seeing up to 10 inches of rain.

A late afternoon track shift on Tuesday took Dorian from shooting the gap between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to an eastern tilt directly through Puerto Rico, which is still hurting from the direct hit it took from Hurricane Maria two years ago. Wednesday morning saw the track shift farther right and closer to the Virgin Islands.

The storm is expected to test Puerto Rico’s ragged infrastructure and rebuilding process, which was strained by slow federal and insurance payouts, as well as its fledgling government.

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Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. Virgin Islands are under a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning. The British Virgin islands are under a tropical storm warning. The government of the Dominican Republic has changed its watches and warnings. An early Wednesday morning advisory listed Isla Saona to Puerto Plata as being under both a tropical storm warning and a tropical storm watch. As of 8 a.m., the tropical storm warning was lifted. Isla Saona to Samana are now under a tropical storm watch.

There’s still plenty of time for the forecast to shift.

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

So far Miami International Airport has only experienced one Dorian-related flight cancellation: American Airlines’ 10:52 a.m. flight to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday and the corresponding return flight previously scheduled to arrive at MIA Wednesday evening at 5:40 p.m.

Royal Caribbean International announced Wednesday that it is closing its private island in the Bahamas, Coco Cay, ahead of Tropical Storm Dorian’s arrival. The company expects the island to re-open on Sep. 4, 2019.

“Our CocoCay Team is made up of over 400 Bahamian locals on the island and it’s important that they evacuate to care for their families and secure their homes, as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement. Passengers who purchased tickets to attractions at the island will be refunded.

Trips on six of Royal Caribbean’s upcoming trips will likely be affected by itinerary changes: Empress of the Seas August 24, 2019, Symphony of the Seas August 24, 2019, Mariner of the Seas August 26, 2019, Navigator of the Seas August 30, 2019, Mariner of the Seas August 30, 2019, and Harmony of the Seas September 1, 2019.

The company urges passengers to check its website for updates.

Carnival Cruise Line is diverting four of its ships to avoid Tropical Storm Dorian. The August 24 sailing on Carnival Breeze will skip its San Juan, Puerto Rico stop; the August 27 sailing on Carnival Sunrise will switch the order of its visits to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, San Juan and Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; the August 25 sailing on Carnival Magic will go to Amber Cove instead of Nassau, Bahamas; and the August 31 sailing on Carnival Sensation will switch the order of its visits to Nassau, Grand Turk, and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.

Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises have not announced any itinerary changes yet.

Miami Herald Staff Reporter Taylor Dolven contributed to this story.

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Real Time/Breaking News Reporter. There’s never a dull moment in Florida — and I cover it. Graduated with honors from Florida International University. Find me on Twitter @TweetMichelleM
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.