Hurricane Dorian is the strongest storm on the planet and it’s bearing down on the Bahamas. The U.S. National Hurricane Centre (NHC) sent out an advisory early Sunday morning local time that the storm had been upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane.
“Catastrophic conditions” are already occurring on the Abacos Islands, per the NHC. The agency reported sustained wind speeds of 290km/h with gusts reaching more than 322km/h, and it’s moving west at about 11km/h. Fewer than 20 Atlantic storms have ever had winds this powerful, according to experts. And only one other Category 5 hurricane on record has made landfall in the Bahamas. The only other was 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, according to the Washington Post.
In addition to Dorian’s fierce winds, the Bahamas will have to contend with life-threatening storm surge and heavy rain. The NHC forecasts storm surge heights of 18-23 feet (5-7 metres) and up to 30 inches (76 centimetres) of rain.
For comparison, last year’s Hurricane Michael brought absolutely devastated the region’s infrastructure and left many residents homeless.
Beyond the Bahamas, Florida’s east coast currently has a hurricane watch in effect for areas north of Deerfield Beach to the Volusia-Brevard County Line. Experts predict the storm will hit the hurricane watch area around late Monday or early Tuesday local time. A state of emergency is also in effect throughout the state, as well as in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Though the storm’s forecast track has shifted east toward the Carolinas as of mid-Saturday, Florida officials told residents to remain on guard.
As of Sunday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued mandatory evacuation orders for Palm Beach County and Martin County for residents living in Zones A and B, the lowest-lying areas.
Evacuation orders are generally issued when the threat of storm surge could overtake areas more so than winds alone, underscoring that even if Dorian doesn’t make official landfall in Florida, impacts are still likely and could be extremely dangerous.