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'Probably Going To Flood Again': What The First Coast Can Expect From Hurricane Dorian

David Luckin
Sandbags are piled outside a business in Atlantic Beach on Monday, Sept. 2.

With powerful Hurricane Dorian at a near standstill over the Bahamas, the historic storm is forecast to deliver a blow to the state’s East Coast.

The slow-moving nature of Dorian brings concerns that search-and-rescue operations and electricity restoration could be delayed by high winds from a lingering storm.

According to the meteorologists at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, this is the most likely scenario for Northeast Florida, with tropical storm force winds expected to arrive as soon as Tuesday evening:

STORM SURGE: A storm surge of 2 to 4 feet is possible in Nassau, Duval and St. Johns counties along the coast and Intracoastal Waterway. Surge amounts of 1 to 3 feet is possible for areas along the St. Johns River, with higher amounts possible near Hastings and Palatka.

RAIN: Rainfall amounts from Dorian are likely to vary greatly across the region, ranging from 2 to 5 inches, with higher isolated amounts possible along coastal areas in Nassau, Duval, and St. Johns counties. Inland flooding from rain will be possible, especially in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding from typical summertime thunderstorms.

WIND: Periods of tropical storm force winds are expected over Flagler, St. Johns, Duval, and Nassau counties are possible late Tuesday through Wednesday, with the greatest chances across eastern portions of the counties. There is a slight chance of hurricane force winds up to 70 mph across the region, mostly near coastal areas. Further inland, tropical storm force wind gusts might accompany outer rain bands and squalls west of Interstate 95.

TORNADOES:  A tornado or two is possible from the outer rain squalls from Dorian at any time Tuesday through Wednesday night.  Chances of this occurring are highest near the Atlantic Coast, where water spouts are also possible.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, addressing reporters at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Monday, said people along the coast from Palm Beach County to the Georgia border need to heed evacuation orders and other directives from local officials.

“This has been frustrating for a lot of people, because I know it seems like we have been talking about this for a long time, but we are in a situation where the storm is stalling very close to our coast,” DeSantis said. “It is going to make a movement. And the movement that it makes is going to have a lot of impact on Floridians.”

Coastal areas face life-threatening storm surge and destructive hurricane-force winds from Dorian, described by the National Hurricane Center as “catastrophic,” even if the eye wall remains offshore when it makes an anticipated northern turn toward Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Even if it’s offshore, you’re looking at strong-enough winds where there is going to be widespread power outages, particularly along the coast,” DeSantis said. “And people should also be concerned about the water. We had areas all the way up to Jacksonville flood during (2016’s Hurricane) Matthew, flood during (2017’s Hurricane) Irma. If that happened in those two storms, this is going to be close enough that you’re probably going to flood again.”

Track showing the storm passing the First Coast off shore on Wednesday

Although the official forecast does not show Dorian making landfall on the Florida coast, the National Hurricane Center noted it is still possible for Dorian to deviate enough to put the eye very near or over the coast.

At 11 a.m., Dorian was sitting over Grand Bahama Island with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, a Category 4 storm just below the strength of Hurricane Michael when it made landfall last October east of Panama City and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Dorian, which struck the Bahamas Sunday with 185 mph sustained winds, was just over 100 miles east of West Palm Beach, moving west at 1 mph.

The National Hurricane Center warned that while Dorian should weaken during the next few days, the “system will remain a dangerous major hurricane for the next several days.”

A hurricane warning was in place from the Jupiter Inlet north to the border of Flagler and Volusia counties, while a storm surge watch was in place from the Flagler-Volusia line to the Savannah River in Georgia.

Mandatory evacuation orders had been issued for coastal areas of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Brevard, Volusia, St. Johns, Duval and Nassau counties. Voluntary evacuation notices had been issued for residents of Flagler, Osceola, Glades, Hendry, Okeechobee and Highlands counties.

DeSantis said gas stations along evacuation routes will remain open.

“Get out now while you have time and there is fuel available and you’ll be safe on the roads,” DeSantis said.

Tolls were lifted by DeSantis around Jacksonville on Monday, joining Florida’s Turnpike and other roads in South and Central Florida where tolls had been suspended earlier.

Nearly 40 general shelters and 11 special-needs shelters had been opened across the state.

Airports in areas such as West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale suspended operations Monday. Orlando International Airport said on its website at mid-day Monday that it continued to monitor the storm.

Ports along the coast have closed or will close to incoming vessels.

Already, 72 nursing homes had evacuated along the coast, while some hospitals from Palm Beach north had started evacuation plans.

With Lake Okeechobee at 13.74 feet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers anticipated a rise of 2 feet to 3.5 feet from Hurricane Dorian, a rise that wasn’t expected to test the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake or create storm surge.

More than 1,000 state law enforcement officers were on standby for potential deployment, and 4,434 members of the Florida National Guard had been activated.