Many along the United States’ southeastern coast were hunkering down as Hurricane Dorian, now a still-strong Category 2 storm, is starting its northward grind up Florida’s coast.
As of Wednesday, Dorian was beginning to make contact with the US after unleashing massive flooding and battering winds on the Bahamas. It first hit the islands Sunday and slowed to a crawl, dumping rain on the battered isles.
National Hurricane Center officials wrote in an 5 a.m. Dorian update that conditions in the Bahamas remained “dangerous” and said life-threatening conditions were expected along portions of the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, “regardless of the exact track of Dorian’s center.”
After hitting the Bahamas, the slow-crawling storm ground nearly to a standstill, prompting thousands of distress calls amid conditions so bad that even rescue crews were forced to take shelter. At least seven deaths were blamed on the storm.
As of early Wedsesday, forecasters generally expected Dorian’s center to stay off shore. A meteorological gridlock meant the storm had been horrible for the Bahamas, but forecasters say that actually may have helped spare Florida a bit.
However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Dorian is still expected to bring life-threatening storm surges to the mainland United States, even as it was downgraded to a category 2 hurricane.
Dorian pounded the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with winds of up to 185 miles per hour and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters on a course for Florida. Its winds were down to a still-dangerous 110 miles per hour.
While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian is expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina — and perhaps strike North Carolina — on Thursday or Friday. More than 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina were warned to evacuate.
The earliest reasonable time that tropical-storm-force winds, which have started to strike Florida, could enter Georgia and South Carolina is Wednesday morning. Those winds are exected to carrying up the US mainland coast the rest of the week — and hit southern New England by midday Friday.
However, forecasters have pegged the most likely arrival time of tropical storm-force winds as Wednesday evening in Georgia and South Carolina and Friday evening in New England.
The tropical-storm-force wind speeds aren’t expected to venture as far inland as earlier models of Dorian suggested, but the mid-Atlantic and New England regions have an increased chance of high winds through the end of the week as Dorian continues its path toward the North Atlantic.
Meanwhile, a hurricane warningis in effect in Florida from Sebastian Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach and for the entire coast of South Carolina north to Surf City, N.C. During a hurricane warning — which is typically issued 36 hours in advance and means hurricane conditions are expected — residents should complete storm their preparations and immediately leave the area if directed by local officials, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A hurricane watch, which means the storm’s arrival is possible, is in effect north of Surf City, N.C., to the North Carolina-Virginia border and the area north of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to the Savannah River, which includes the entire coast of Georgia. There’s also a hurricane watch in effect for North Carolina’s Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, which extend inland.
Storm surge warnings were issued for the northern part of Florida, the entire coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, and the portion of the North Carolina coast from the S.C. border to Surf City. Watches were issued in areas north of Surf City, including the Pamilsco and Albemarle Sounds.
As the track of Dorian appeared less likely to make a direct strike on Florida, forecasters increased their warning about storm surges.
“Water levels could begin to rise well in advance of the arrival of strong winds. The surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.” they wrote early Wednesday.
Forecasters in Miami say there is the potential for storm surges 5-8 feet above ground somewhere within surge-prone areas.
Officials with the National Weather Service were also cautioning people about dangerous beach conditions, including the potential for deadly rip currents.
Meanwhile, as much as 6 inches of rain is predicted for parts of the eastern Florida and Georgia coast, as well as anywhere from 5 to 10 inches in the Carolinas, due to the storm.
Meanwhile, isolated areas across the Carolinas could receive up to 15 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
“The flash flood threat will spread up the southeast U.S. coast today and Thursday, then across the coastal Mid-Atlantic region on Friday,” National Weather Service forecasters wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45 percent of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to be severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.
‘‘What we are hearing lends credence to the fact that this has been a catastrophic storm and a catastrophic impact,’’ Cochrane said.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.