TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Hurricane Dorian gained strength as it brushed past Puerto Rico Wednesday, threatening to grow into a dangerously powerful hurricane ahead of a possible Labor Day landfall in Florida.
Wednesday night, Dorian had topped hurricane status with winds blowing at 85 mph and moving northwest at 13 miles per hour with nothing but warm open Atlantic waters ahead of it.
Forecasters still expect the hurricane to strengthen into a major Category 3 hurricane before landfall.
The entire east coast of Florida and Georgia are in the storm’s forecast cone, which also extends as far north as the South Carolina border. But most of the focus was on Florida, where local governments began making sandbags available and officials are urging residents to take precautions now.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Wednesday, tweeting that "All Floridians on the East Coast should have 7 days of supplies, prepare their homes & follow the track closely."
FOX 13 chief meteorologist Paul Dellegatto explained that a high pressure system in the Atlantic is key to the storm’s track; if the high weakens, it will allow Dorian to slide up the U.S. east coast. But if the storm remains strong – as some models are increasingly suggesting – it will push Dorian straight into Florida.
“Notice the big bend in the track,” Paul said. “The comparative storm would be Jeanne back in 2004 that cut across the peninsula and did cause all kinds of trouble here locally. We had very strong winds; the storm went right over Hillsborough County. Over Plant City, we had winds 70 to 90 miles per hour. Depending on how strong this storm is at landfall, we could be looking at something like that over Labor Day.
“We’re not quite to that point to say it’s definitely going to happen, but the odds are going up.”
As the state’s east coast began to hunker down, some Tampa Bay area communities began offering sandbags.
While it’s still too soon to say exactly what the local effects will be, forecasters warned not to wait until the last minute to prepare.
“Impacts to Tampa Bay area depend on exact track, which we will fine tune in coming days,” Paul added. “Have a hurricane plan.”