National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Dorian has strengthened into an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, forecasters said Friday night.

The unexpected announcement came in an updated bulletin ahead of a scheduled 11 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Dorian, which now has maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, is still predicted to strike Florida possibly Tuesday afternoon, and in a location that is still very uncertain.

As of Friday night, it was expected to make landfall near Fort Pierce as a Category 4 storm. It remains about 400 miles east of the northwestern Bahamas and 575 miles east of West Palm Beach.

In its 8 p.m. bulletin, the NHC tracked Dorian’s sustained winds at 125 mph. That quickly changed.

“The track forecast by the end of the forecast period is highly uncertain, and any small deviation in the track could bring the core of the powerful hurricane well inland over Florida, keep it near the coast, or offshore,” forecasters wrote Friday.

Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that evacuation orders could begin as early as Saturday in the most vulnerable coastal areas, including Palm Beach, Martin and Brevard counties. Tropical storm watches and warnings also will likely go up this weekend as well.

DeSantis warned that Dorian could be a “multi-day storm” and said officials have distributed about a million gallons of water and plan to distribute almost two million meals from a central warehouse hub in Orlando. He also said President Donald Trump had approved his request for a federal disaster declaration for the state.

“That will enable us to draw down more federal resources in anticipation of this storm,” he said in a media briefing. “The constant in this storm … is that this thing is getting stronger.”

Beyond the threat of major hurricane winds, the NHC also raised the risks of flooding rain for Florida. The storm is expected to slow down when it reaches Florida’s coast, which could mean it stalls out and dumps so much rain it can be measured in feet. NHC predicted the southeast coast could see anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of rain, with some spots getting up to 18 inches.

There were not yet storm surge predictions for Florida, but the Bahamas are expected to see 10 to 15 feet of surge, “dangerous waves” and anywhere from two to four inches of rain in the central Bahamas and 10 to 15 inches in the northwestern Bahamas. Andros Island was under a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning was issued for the rest of the northwestern Bahamas.

Every Florida county is under a state of emergency, and DeSantis said counties facing the brunt of the storm — Palm Beach, Martin and Brevard — are expected to announce evacuation orders Saturday.

Projections have shifted Dorian’s possible landfall up and down the coast over this week, and each update shows a later arrival time.

A ridge of high pressure that’s forming near Bermuda is already pushing the storm west toward Florida’s coast.

Most models agree that Dorian will make a northern turn sometime Tuesday, but it’s unclear yet if that turn will happen over land or over sea.

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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.

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