Hurricane Dorian continues to build in strength as it hurtles across the Atlantic with an eye on the east coast of Florida.
Reliable tracking models suggest the storm may shift northward before hitting the Sunshine State, but local officials are taking no chances.
Even a glancing blow would bring heavy rain and storms surges along the east coast and could mean a direct hit on Georgia and the Carolinas. Meanwhile, parts of the Bahamas are under immediate threat as the storm, with near 150 mph winds, slows as it approaches the archipelago on its westward journey.
Where is Hurricane Dorian?
At 11 p.m. EDT, Dorian was 310 miles east of Florida, slowing from 12 mph to 8 mph as it moved westward. The hurricane center says the core of Dorian is expected to be near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday and near the Florida east coast late Monday or Tuesday.
A tropical storm watch has been issued for part of Florida's east coast, from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian Inlet.
How Strong is it?
Dorian, already a major Category 4 storm early Saturday, strengthened again on Saturday, jumping from near 145 mph to near 150 mph. The National Hurricane Center says while some fluctuations in intensity are possible, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane over the next few days.
Where is the most immediate danger from Dorian?
The Bahamas. The island group is expected to get tropical storm winds Saturday night, with the full force of the storm hitting the archipelago on Sunday. The NHC warns of life-threatening surges that could be 15 feet above normal tide level accompanied by "large and destructive waves."
In the northwestern Bahamas, some of the most reliable computer models have the storm stalling and dumping as much as 50 inches.
When and where is it likely to make landfall in the U.S.?
Dorian continues on course for Florida, with possible landfall between West Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral early next week.
New projections, however, suggest that it may shift northward in the next two days, hugging the Florida coast en route to landfall in Georgia or the Carolinas. Some forecast tracks even see Dorian missing the U.S. coast altogether and swinging eastward back into the open Atlantic. But forecasters caution there are still many variables.
Does a shift in the track mean Florida is off the hook?
No. In fact, the National Hurricane Service and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warn that the variations in the forecast tracks could shift again and that Florida residents should continue preparations for a direct hit.
Even with all the latest shifts in tracking, the entire peninsula still falls well within the "cone of uncertainly" as to where it will hit. “Looking at these forecasts, a bump in one direction or the other could have really significant ramifications in terms of impact," DeSantis said Saturday. "If it bumps further east, that obviously is positive. If it bumps just a little west, than you’re looking at really, really significant impacts.”
What is the biggest threat to the east coast as the hurricane gets closer?
Life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds are still possible along portions of the Florida east coast by the early to middle part of next week, but since Dorian is forecast to slow down and turn north near the coast, it is too soon to determine when or where the highest surge and winds will occur.
How is Florida preparing?
Some counties announced mandatory evacuations ahead of time on Friday.
Brevard County and Martin County officials said residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying areas would be under a mandatory evacuation order beginning Sunday morning – though they could change.
The Brevard County order includes the Kennedy Space Center. Emergency Operations Centers along coast are not yet fully activated ahead of Hurricane Dorian, but Martin and Indian River counties expect to begin evacuation on Sunday, officials said Friday.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster has also declared a state of emergency for his state.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hurricane Dorian update: Latest track, forecast for Florida, Carolinas