Updated at 9:54 a.m. ET
Hurricane Dorian has grown even more powerful, strengthening to a Category 5 storm as it approaches the Bahamas with what the National Hurricane Center warned would be "devastating winds" and a "life-threatening storm surge."
Maximum sustained winds for Dorian increased to 175 mph, with gusts above 200 mph, and further intensification is possible according to the NHC.
The eye of the storm is less than 20 miles from Abaco Island, and the hurricane is projected to stall over the Bahamas for up to 24 hours, bringing massive rain and a 20-foot storm surge posing catastrophic damage to the low-lying islands.
The storm's projected path shifted east on Saturday, increasing the likelihood that its landfall in the U.S. will be in Georgia and the Carolinas. And while Florida may now avoid a direct hit, the storm could still bring a dangerous storm surge and hurricane-force winds to the U.S. mainland.
On Saturday afternoon, Ken Graham, director of the NHC, said the storm is slowing down as it prepares to turn north.
"We have a movement of about 2 miles an hour during that turn. That's devastating for the Bahamas," Graham said. "When you're moving that slow, that's a lot of rain, that's a lot of prolonged winds. That is really devastating for some of the islands in the northern Bahamas."
The #NOAA20 polar-orbiting satellite captured this close up view of the wide eye of #HurricaneDorian as it passed over in the early morning hours of Aug. 31. The storm's max sustained winds have increased to near 150 mph, according to the @NHC_Atlantic. https://t.co/gf5urOHFUo pic.twitter.com/3Jd5ubR1NG— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) August 31, 2019
As much as 64 inches of rain could fall over the northern Bahamas once Dorian reaches the archipelago, according to storm models.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue says that the current forecast for the Bahamas "is a disaster: feet of Rain, storm surge, and Cat 4 sustained winds."
The eye of Hurricane #Dorian will spend at least 36-hours meandering around Abaco & Grand Bahama Islands ... current forecast track is a disaster: feet of Rain, storm surge, and Cat 4 sustained winds. pic.twitter.com/DjiYfW6H8c— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) August 31, 2019
The Bahamas' prime minister, Hubert Minnis, urged residents in the path of the storm to evacuate. Officials have opened nine hurricane shelters on Grand Bahama Island and 15 shelters on Abaco for people to stay in during the hurricane.
I am on my way to Abaco to attend a briefing for residents and check in on the progress of evacuations. I am urging everyone in The Bahamas in the path of #HurricaneDorian2019 to evacuate to safety from this extremely dangerous storm. pic.twitter.com/6N32g3u3ya— Dr Hubert Minnis (@minnis_dr) August 31, 2019
In a Facebook post on Saturday, the NHC wrote that the storm continues to track west as it approaches the Bahamas:
"Hurricane Dorian is centered as of 11 a.m. EDT about 415 miles (670 km) east of West Palm Beach, Florida. Dorian is moving toward the west near 8 mph (13 km/h) and a slower westward motion should continue into early next week. On this track, the core of Dorian should move over the Atlantic well north of the southeastern and central Bahamas today, be near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday, and move near the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday."
The National Weather Service says tropical force winds are expected to arrive in parts of south and central Florida as early as Sunday or Monday. The storm is then expected to affect Georgia and the Carolinas in the middle of the coming week.
Dorian is expected to bring between 4 and 8 inches of rain and, in some isolated areas, up to 12 inches of rain to the southeast United States, according to the NHC.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency to include each of the state's 67 counties, citing the storm's "uncertain path." President Trump has also granted DeSantis' request for an emergency declaration in Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide equipment and resources to the state.
Despite the shift in the storm's projected path, DeSantis urged residents on Saturday to be prepared.
"Although the path of #Dorian has shifted, the entire East Coast is still vulnerable to significant impacts. Residents in East Coast counties should continue to monitor local reports and stay vigilant," DeSantis said on Twitter.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has declared a state of emergency in 12 counties.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Friday. On Saturday, so too did South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
"Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario," said McMaster. "We encourage all South Carolinians who may be impacted by Hurricane Dorian to be vigilant and prepare now — there is no reason for delay."
Slow-moving storms like Dorian are getting more common as the Earth gets hotter. In the past 70 years, tropical cyclones around the world have slowed down 10%, according to a study published this year. Hurricane Florence, in 2018, and Hurricane Harvey, in 2017, were both slow-moving storms.
When storms move slowly, they have time to drop a lot of rain. Warm ocean water also exacerbates the risk of extreme downpours. After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, researchers found that record-high temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico sent enormous quantities of water vapor into the storm; that water vapor then fell as rain when the storm made landfall.
This year, the surface temperature of the water in the Atlantic Ocean, where Dorian formed, isn't record breaking, but the water is still warmer than the past average. That means there's plenty of fuel for the storm to get large and wet.
I definitely feel for folks along the east coast of the Florida peninsula. Imagine a freight train coming straight at you and people with computer programs that simulate that freight train tell you “don’t worry it’s probably going to turn and miss“.— Mark Sudduth (@hurricanetrack) August 31, 2019