TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Slow-moving Hurricane Dorian continued to intensify Friday, strengthening to a Category 4 Friday night.
As of Friday evening, Dorian was fewer than 545 miles east of West Palm Beach with winds of 140 mph – Category 4 strength. The storm was crawling west at 10 mph, the slow pace giving the hurricane more of a chance to strengthen.
Forecasters are still unsure of Dorian's exact track, but the latest forecast models have increasingly suggested a turn to the north and a track up the east coast of the state, but it’s still too early to see if that scenario will hold.
“The thing that we really have to do tonight and through the weekend is really see if the trend of a turn to the north sooner rather than later becomes the norm in [model] run after run after run,” FOX 13 chief meteorologist Paul Dellegatto explained.
A high pressure system in the Atlantic is the main factor in Dorian’s eventual path. If the high pressure remains in place, it will shove the storm west on a more direct path into Florida. But if it weakens, it will allow Dorian to slide to the north sooner, riding up the state’s east coast with dangerous winds and surge.
Such a track would reduce the risk on the state’s west coast, though.
“The good news for us here in Tampa Bay is that, unless the storm cuts across the peninsula to the west coast – which is still a possibility – if we stay on the west side of a track up the east coast, the weather here is not going to be all that bad,” Paul continued. “A track difference of 20 or 30 miles really makes a big difference.”
For now, forecasters expect tropical storm-force winds could arrive in the Bay Area overnight Monday into Tuesday. Hurricane conditions are possible after that, but the actual timing and details of Dorian’s local impact will depend on how far inland the storm travels, with conditions obviously worse in the eastern counties.
With that in mind, Polk and Highlands counties announced Friday that school would remain closed for two days after Labor Day – through Wednesday. Schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, and Sumter counties will be closed through Tuesday.
The Labor Day holiday itself could be stormy in the Tampa Bay area, but it will have nothing to do with Dorian – just the usual summertime pattern.
“With this thing slowing down, it may not even make landfall until early Tuesday morning -- by the time we are all back from the holiday weekend,” FOX 13 meteorologist Dave Osterberg said Friday. “This is a slow process. Don’t wear yourself out. Don’t stress yourself out. Just wait and watch and do your best to enjoy your holiday weekend.”