There was always a chance that Dorian was going to make a right turn. In fact, it wasn’t just “a chance” but a very high probability. But a day or so ago, it was reasonable to say that Dorian would likely, but not necessarily, make that turn AFTER coming ashore in Florida.It now looks like Dorian may make that turn sooner, while still at sea.
We have already seen major news outlets walking all over their own tongues trying to describe that might happen, and thus quite possibly misleading people in a dangerous way. Here, I’ll focus on a new way of explaining the Dorian dilemma.
First, think of a hurricane as a car. The driver is the eye. Perhaps imagine a car where the driver sits more in the middle, like this one:
Now, imagine this car is coming at you, right at you like it is going to run you over. You are frozen in place in terror and can not move aide. But,at the last second, the car, which was about to hit you head on at 125 miles per hour, turns slightly so it hits you on its right front bumper instead of in the middle.
You are totally fine, because the part of the car that is the driver did not actually run you over. Only the part of the car that is over on the right third. So, no problem, right?
I don’t think so. This is you:
If Dorian turns soon enough, so the outer tropical wind force bands are too far from the coast to come ashore, then Florida will have some high winds, and high surf, and beach erosion. Boats trapped to the north of Dorian’s original course that can’t get out of the way may be trapped in dangerous seas.
This is Dorian driving by all the people in Florida:
If Dorian turns later, stays at sea but not too far at sea, then hurricane force winds and storm tides will affect coastal communities not just where a straight-running storm would come ashore, but over many hundreds of miles as the storm parallels the coast. It would be like when one of those Grand Prix cars takes out the first two rows of spectators in France.
That is a picture of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina standing too close to the ocean.
One major news agency has already messed this up with a headline like “‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Dorian barrels toward Carolinas, likelihood of direct hit on Florida decreases”
That makes it sound like Florida may be out of the woods, and the Hurricane is instead going to hit somewhere else. What could really happen is havoc along the coast of Florida, followed by the storm weakening, then lumbering ashore as a big wet spot at some later time. The last person to get run into by that car taking out all the spectators just got a bruise. That sort of thing.
Or, Dorian could stay far enough off shore to retain its immense power as a hurricane for long enough to suddenly turn left and plow into some harbor in the Carolinas and wipe out all those motels the good people of coastal Florida are staying in because they fled Dorian in the first place.
Here is the current best estimate from the National Hurricane Center for the what and when on Hurricane Dorian:
As 2:00 AM EDT Tuesday morning, September 03, Dorian will be well into its right turn to the north, far enough away from the coast that the shores near Port St. Lucie will probably not experience hurricane force winds or storm surges. Dorian will be a Category 4 hurricane at that time, with maximum winds of 130 mph, gusting to 160 mph.
Between then and 24 hours later, 2:00 AM EDT Wednesday morning September 04, Dorian will be near Palm Coast, heading more or less north, but probably sneaking closer to the coastline, and probably having nasty impacts on the coast the whole way. It will not weaken much during this period, with maximum winds just a little slower than at the time of the turn (125 mph, gusting to 155 mph)
Over the next day or so, Dorian will probably continue to menace the coast of Florida and Georgia, and weaken to a Category 1 storm. At this point it will be hard to not run at an oblique angle into the bulgy part of the eastern US, near or north of the Georgia-South Carolina border. This could be anywhere in South Carolina, or even southern North Carolina. This is probably one of the hardest things to predict because the exact course of the Hurricane and it’s impact on land depend on so many different factors.
So, instead of saying “Florida is out of the woods, there will be landfall (meaning, the driver/eye passes over the coastline) at a later time” the papers should be saying “Major Hurricane Dorian will menace the coast from the central Florida Atlantic coastline through somewhere in South Carolina to an unknown degree at unknown locations.”
In short, Hurricane Dorian is almost certain to crash into the crowd somewhere, we don’t know where.