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Two hundred miles. That’s how far off a five-day forecast can be for a hurricane.

This is important to keep in mind over the next few days as Hurricane Dorian continues to move northwestward toward the United States. The map you see Wednesday is highly unlikely to be the exact track the storm follows. It does, however, give you a general idea of who is possibly going to be affected.

Things can change very quickly. On Tuesday, it appeared that this storm would move south of Puerto Rico and hit the Dominican Republic. Now the storm is actually on track to pass on the Eastern side of that island and then head into very warm waters north of the Bahamas during the weekend.

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Dorian is forecast to become a major hurricane as it approaches the US mainland this weekend. Part of the reason for the upgrade in the storm’s forecast is it is no longer likely to go over any land masses; rather, it will stay over very warm water.

The waters off the southeast coast are very warm this time of year.
The waters off the southeast coast are very warm this time of year. NOAA data

Hurricanes are fueled by warm ocean temperatures, and it’s the ocean that acts as the fuel for the storm. A hurricane is just a collection of rotating thunderstorms with a lot of wind and rain. As that wind stirs up the ocean, it allows a greater rate of evaporation, and eventually all of that moisture condenses into clouds and even bigger thunderstorms.

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It’s a safe bet that this storm is going to become a major hurricane this weekend. The challenge is exactly where it will make landfall when it does finally reach the mainland United States. There’s basically two areas of high pressure creating steering currents for the storm. Over the next couple of days, as these highs continue to undergo changes, the hurricane’s path can be affected.

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It’s not out of the question that the storm could even go into South Florida and then cross into the Gulf of Mexico sometime next week. If the steering currents weaken a lot, the storm could slow down to a crawl as it approaches the Southeast coast. We have seen this happen a couple of times with storms in recent years, and that ultimately ends up producing a tremendous amount of rain and severe flooding.

Since 1851, there’s been 13 Category 3 or higher storms to hit Florida’s East Coast. The last one was back in 2004, when Hurricane Jeanne came ashore around Stuart, Fla., the second storm to do so that year in the same spot.

It’s been 15 years since a storm that powerful has hit Florida. Time will tell if this year it happens again.


Follow Dave Epstein on Twitter @growingwisdom.