Hurricane Dorian strengthened to a “catastrophic” Category 5 storm early Sunday as it closed in on the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said.
It’s expected to bring devastating 160 mph winds, heavy rainfall and life-threatening storm surge as it prepares to hit the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas. It will then hit Grand Bahama Island later on Sunday.
The hurricane shifted Saturday as forecasters said it was on course to get close to Florida, but make landfall in Georgia and the Carolinas.
On its current track, the core of Dorian should move closer to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night, the hurricane center said.
As of 8 a.m. ET, the hurricane was 220 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
There is now a tropical storm warning in effect for portions of the state’s east coast – from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian Inlet. And a tropical storm watch is also in effect from north of Golden Beach to Deerfield Beach.
Since Dorian is forecast to slow down and turn northward as it approaches the coast, the center says life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are still possible for portions of the Florida east coast by the middle of this week.
“Residents should have their hurricane plan in place, know if they are in a hurricane evacuation zone and listen to advice given by local emergency officials,” the center said Sunday.
Steven Strouss, an NBC News meteorologist, cautioned that even though landfall may not occur along Florida’s east coast, the hurricane will track very close and impacts may still include torrential and flooding rainfall, tropical-storm force winds, dangerous storm surge and life-threatening rip currents.
“The hurricane will spin close enough to lash the southeast United States Monday through Wednesday as it churns northward up the coast,” Strouss said, adding that the storm could cause major travel disruptions.
Strouss said it’s paramount that residents in areas that could be affected listen to local emergency official and have enough food, water and gas to last for at least a week.
“Be prepared to be without power for several days or possibly longer,” he said.
The hurricane center also warned about increasing risk of strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina later this week.
President Donald Trump said he would discuss possible evacuations Sunday in a scheduled meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.s to evacuate areas most at risk.
“Homes, houses, structures can be replaced,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Saturday. “Lives cannot be replaced.”
Rainfall estimates have gone up for the Caribbean archipelago and the coastal Carolinas.
A life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels in the area, the center said.
Near the coast, the surge will also be accompanied by large and destructive waves.
Between 12 and 24 inches of rain, and up to 30 inches in some areas, are expected in the northwestern Bahamas. That could lead to life-threatening flash floods, the center said.
Residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands as the powerful hurricane approached.
The Bahamas ministry of tourism told NBC News that only certain parts of the Bahamas in the northwestern part of the islands have conducted evacuation procedures and strongly advised visitors to leave.
“Hurricane conditions are likely to continue through Tuesday morning and possibly longer across the normal Bahamas,” said Strouss, the NBC News meteorologist.
“As a result of this prolonged period, widespread power outages, extreme beach erosion and destructive damage are all likely.”
Strouss said that since records began in the 1850s, the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island have never been directly hit by a Category 5 storm.
Dorian now also represents the first time since satellite technology has been used for weather tracking that there have been four years in a row with Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic, Strouss said.
Hurricane Michael hit in 2018, Hurricanes Maria and Irma wreaked havoc in 2017, and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Associated Press contributed.