Tropical Storm Dorian Closing in on Puerto Rico, Expected to Be Hurricane by Labor Day
USWeb Staff

UPDATE at 2:12 p.m.: Dorian became a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday as it struck the U.S. Virgin Islands, with forecasters saying it could grow to Category 3 status as it nears the U.S. mainland as early as the weekend.

Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Aug. 28, faced its first major test of emergency preparedness since the 2017 devastation of Hurricane Maria as Tropical Storm Dorian neared the U.S. territory at near-hurricane force—and forecasters said it could grow to Category 3 status as it nears the U.S. mainland later.

The storm was expected to move near the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, with landslides, widespread flooding and power outages possible in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

Dorian prompted President Donald Trump to declare an emergency Tuesday night and order federal assistance for local authorities.

“It’s possible it could turn into a hurricane before it reaches Puerto Rico,” said Roberto García, director of U.S. National Weather Service San Juan, during a press conference on Wednesday.

However, he said the forecast could keep changing, adding that late shifts occur with storms such as Dorian that do not have a well-defined center.

“This is not written in stone. It could change in the next minutes, hours,” he said.

At 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Dorian was located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it had strengthened slightly, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) while moving northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

The Hurricane Center said the storm could grow into a dangerous Category 3 storm as it pushes northwest in the general direction of Florida.

The storm was expected to dump 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain with isolated amounts of 8 inches (20 centimeters).

Trump sent a tweet earlier assuring that “We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job.”

Dorian Expected to Be Hurricane by Labor Day

The NHC said Tropical Storm Dorian is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall in Florida on Labor Day.

The storm is forecast to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane by Friday morning and is expected to continue to strengthen to a Category 2 storm by Sunday morning before it makes landfall along the east coast of Florida or Georgia Monday morning, according to the Coastal Watches/Warnings and Forecast Cone for Storm Center issued by the NHC.

NHC-dorian-path
Coastal Watches/Warnings and Forecast Cone for Storm Center. (National Hurricane Center)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was cited by CNN as saying on Tuesday, Aug. 27, that he was briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz on the need to start preparing for Dorian’s possible landfall.

“Based on the current track of Tropical Storm Dorian, all residents on the east coast should prepare for impacts, including strong winds, heavy rain, and flooding,” DeSantis said, according to the report. “Make sure to have your supplies ready and follow @FLSERT [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and local media for the latest updates on the forecast.”

“There is a chance for rapid intensification just before making landfall somewhere along our east coast,” News 6 meteorologist Troy Bridges said.

“We will see the impacts in Central Florida, including some rain from Dorian, well before landfall, possibly by late Friday or early Saturday,” Bridges said. “It is still too early to tell specifics about our impacts, however.”

Dorian is expected to dump 3 to 5 inches of rain on Florida when it reaches the southeastern U.S. state, the NHC said.

Better Prepared

By Wednesday morning, the storm was located about 85 miles southeast of St. Croix, in the Bahamas, carrying maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The NHC said the storm’s center was forecast to pass near or over eastern Hispaniola on Wednesday night. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“Slow strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Dorian is forecast to be near hurricane strength when it approaches Puerto Rico on Wednesday,” the NHC added. A storm becomes a hurricane when top sustained winds reach 74 mph.

“We are better prepared than when Hurricane Maria attacked our island,” Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez told a televised news conference on Tuesday.

She urged those living in flood-prone areas or under a blue tarp to move into one of the island’s 360 shelters.

NTD Photo
Cars line up for fuel at a gas station as Tropical Storm Dorian approaches in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico on Aug. 27, 2019. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

Dorian is expected to weaken slightly after moving over Puerto Rico before regaining strength on Thursday and Friday as it approaches Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas.

As the storm continued its march west-northwest, the NHC issued a tropical storm warning for the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also hit hard during the 2017 hurricane season.

Schools Closed, Cruise Liners Canceled

Public schools will be closed on Wednesday and public workers have been instructed to stay home, Vazquez said.

The Dominican Republic also ramped up storm preparations on Tuesday. Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the emergency operations center, said authorities have identified 3,000 buildings that can be converted into shelters, with capacity for up to 800,000 people.

Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner “Allure of the Sea” canceled a scheduled visit to the island on Thursday, and Carnival Cruise Line also adjusted its itineraries, Vazquez said.

Carnival Cruise Line confirmed the changes. Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond.

Power Outages

Dorian earlier caused power outages and downed trees in Barbados and St. Lucia.

Although top government officials in Puerto Rico said they were prepared for the storm and had sufficient equipment, a couple of mayors, including those in the western region, said they did not have enough generators or shelters that were properly set up.

José Ortiz, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, acknowledged that the distribution system still has weak areas and could “suffer” under winds of 50 to 60 mph. However, he stressed the agency has the needed inventory, including more than 120,000 lights, 23,000 poles and 7,400 transformers.

But Freddyson Martínez, vice president of a power workers’ union, told The Associated Press that while the electric grid has improved in some areas, he worries about a lack of power line workers and post-Maria patches which feature lines affixed to palm trees.

Tropical storm Dorian 6
A house boat is seen secured to a mangrove as Tropical Storm Dorian approaches Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico on Aug. 27, 2019. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

The Associated Press, Reuters and Epoch Times reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this article.