Sep. 3--Hurricane Dorian weakened to a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph early Tuesday morning, according the National Hurricane Center's 2 a.m. advisory.
Dorian's likely path inched slightly farther from South Florida late Monday as the region still faced the risk of hurricane-force winds from the edges of the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. Meanwhile, the major hurricane remained almost at a standstill as it kept buffeting the Bahamas with intense winds and storm surge.
The National Hurricane Center expects Dorian to resume a west-northwestward motion Tuesday followed by a turn northwest late Tuesday night and a northeastward motion expected to begin by Wednesday night.
Despite the favorable movement of the cone of uncertainty, which shows the likely course of the hurricane's center, forecasters warned Floridians against concluding they had escaped the worst.
"Although the center of Dorian is forecast to move near, but parallel to, the Florida east coast, only a small deviation of the track toward the west would bring the core of the hurricane onshore," the hurricane center said in a 5 p.m. forecast discussion.
Dorian has weakened since making landfall in the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm. But despite weakening, Dorian is still battering the Bahamas with gusts of up to 155 mph, according to the 1 a.m. update.
The National Hurricane Center said Dorian is still stationary and is located 100 miles east of West Palm Beach.
Dorian's hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center, and tropical-storm winds extend 150 miles from the center.
In South Florida, as the storm's outer bands began sweeping through Monday, towns were desolate and highway traffic sparse from Boca Raton north through St. Lucie County. The storm struck with sporadic periods of driving rain and strong winds: the Juno Beach Pier reported a sustained wind of 49 mph and a gust to 60 mph.
Windows were boarded with canvas, plywood, metal or insulation. Many businesses were closed.
"It just hasn't moved," said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center. "All day long we've seen the center of this hurricane just sitting in the same spot, battering the Bahama islands."
A hurricane watch was in effect for much of Florida's east coast into Georgia. At Kilwin's ice cream shop in downtown Stuart, plywood markings hearkened back to past storms, warning off hurricanes Jeanne, Frances, Irma and Matthew -- but adding Dorian to the list.
In Stuart, even WaWa, a 24/7 gas station, closed at 5 p.m. Workers zip-tied gas pumps and wrapped them in plastic wrap. The occasional bar welcomed hurricane-awaiting crowds with "open" signs.
Stir-crazy residents crammed into the few open restaurants. "We're out of food," a worker at one pizza place in Port St. Lucie said at 7:30 p.m.
Workers from other states, and evacuees, crowded into hotels in Port St. Lucie. A fleet of a dozen ambulances waited near the local hospital.
A sign at the Hampton Inn hotel warned there is no generator if power is lost and ended with a plea for patience, and "may God be with us all."
As long as Dorian bends north well offshore, as appears likely, South Florida may come through without experiencing hurricane-force winds, said Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Miami.
"Unless this makes a dramatic shift to the west, the chance of hurricane-force winds is pretty low," he said. "There's a hurricane watch but the watch is just there for the possibility."
Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said there are indications the storm may have begun to turn north.
"One of things we look at is the orientation of the clouds around a hurricane and those clouds have become more oval shaped to the north-northwest of where the center is, and sometimes that dictates how a hurricane is going to move," he said. "But we may not see much of a change until late this afternoon or early tonight."
But he cautioned against concluding the Florida coast was safe.
"The one thing that still bothers us is that intense storms tend to wobble," he said. "And they can wobble as much as 10 miles one way and 10 miles another way. So if it wobbles once during a rotation and wobbles again, it can bring hurricane-force winds to the coast very quickly. That's a reason why most meteorologists looking at this are still very, very nervous about this."
Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find flotation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary. At least five deaths in the Bahamas were blamed on the storm.
Officials in the Bahamas said they received a "tremendous" number of calls from people in flooded homes. A radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. Other reports involved a group of eight children and five adults stranded on a highway and two storm shelters that flooded.
At the beach in Boca Raton, at the southern end of the hurricane watch zone, the surfers who traditionally try to catch waves on the cusp of bad storm waited and waited for a decent breaker to come by.
"I thought it was going to be the worst. Category 5 is no joke," said Jakob Katscher, 75, watching them from the beach. Then he took a call.
"You know where I am?" he asked. "At the beach. It's beautiful."
Willis Williams got to his food trailer at Riviera Beach Marina at 3 a.m. Monday to prepare meat, banking that business will pick up if power outages begin. He had propane tanks and grills, for his Willis' BarBQ business. And he wasn't watching the storm track.
"I ain't worried," he said. "I never worry. I put everything in God's hands."
Williams said he'd lived in Florida all his life. "For some reason whenever a hurricane gets ready to come to Florida, it just says, 'Nah, I'm gonna go this other way.'"
Sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph were possible in northeastern Palm Beach County. Coastal Broward can expect winds of 25 to 35 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Worse winds are possible if the storm comes closer. Hurricane-force winds, which means speeds of at least 74 mph, are possible from Boca Raton and up the state's coastline, the National Weather Service said Monday morning.
The storm has grown in size over the past day, putting a wider area at risk. Hurricane winds extend 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds reach 140 miles from the center.
"It just takes a little wiggle, a little movement, a little jog, and then all of a sudden you're a little closer to the coast," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook Live broadcast.
He explained that atmospheric conditions can change the direction of what has been an unpredictable storm. Dorian now ranks as one of the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfalls on record, tied with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, authorities said.
The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph winds. But that storm did not make landfall at that strength.
The eastern half of Palm Beach County was expected to experience tropical-storm conditions that would last through Tuesday night, with the northern section of the county's coastline at risk of "life-threatening storm surge." Forecasters also said "significant" impacts from high winds are possible from Lake Okeechobee to Broward.
The National Hurricane Center highlighted a "reasonable worst-case scenario" of hurricane-force winds from 74 to 100 mph in Palm Beach County, and tropical storm force winds of 50 to 65 mph in Broward.
Palm Beach County on Sunday ordered the evacuation of barrier islands and other vulnerable areas, including the site of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. Palm Beach and Broward counties remained on guard as evacuation shelters began welcoming residents before conditions deteriorated.
There were people streaming into a special-needs shelter slowly Monday afternoon at the South Florida Fairgrounds in suburban West Palm Beach. Janet Robinson, who stood outside, has been in the shelter since Sunday. "It's boring," she said and laughed. But she did say that the conditions were nice and the staff was treating her well.
She is a caretaker and her patient is a 91-year-old woman who uses an oxygen tank and recently had hip surgery. Robinson said she didn't know if the storm would turn out to be so bad, but she wanted to come early just in case. "It is better to be prepared than to be rushing last minute."
Because of mandatory evacuation orders in five counties, tolls were suspended on Florida's Turnpike, and other toll roads across the state, including Interstate 95 express lanes, and the Sawgrass Expressway and Alligator Alley in South Florida.
Palm Beach County had nine general shelters open, as a well as a special-needs shelter and pet-friendly shelter. Broward County on Monday afternoon opened three storm shelters, with two of the shelters open for general populations. One is pet friendly. No evacuations were ordered.
Schools will be closed through Wednesday in Palm Beach County and through Tuesday in Broward and Miami-Dade. Broward County hadn't yet announced plans for Wednesday, but Miami-Dade planned to reopen schools Wednesday.
South Florida also began seeing flooding and king tides in effect. The National Hurricane Center cited the potential for "large and destructive waves" to hit Florida.
"Surge-related flooding depends on the how close the center of Dorian comes to the Florida east coast, and can vary greatly over short distances," an advisory said.
Staff writers Andrew Boryga and Juan Ortega contributed to this report.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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