A muted sun rose on Grand Bahama Island on Tuesday as Dorian scoured the tropical savanna, a stationary system waiting for a dimple in the jet stream – a hiccup in upper-level winds - to nudge it from its deadly complacency.
A low-pressure trough came as if in slow motion, moving east to bully the tropical cyclone out of the way like a bouncer tossing a drunk from a bar.
But that was after a more-than-30-hour razing of the Northern Bahamas by an up-to-185 mph Category 5 hurricane gorging on deeply warm waters, with no shear and no mountains to break it apart.
“It was just perfect timing for the storm to grow,” said Jeff Weber, an atmospheric scientist for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. “It blew up right between a trough and a ridge and just sat in the doldrums, literally.”
Hurricane Dorian: Palm Beachers with homes in northern Bahamas try to assess damage, vow to help islands
September 3, 2019
By the 5 p.m. advisory Tuesday from the National Hurricane Center, the same atmosphere that stoked a killer had swatted it down to a Category 2 hurricane, urging it northwest at 6 mph – a relatively swift pace from its overnight stall and a day at just 1 mph.
In the previous 24 hours, Dorian had only traveled about 40 miles, according to Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach.
“After being stationary for so long, we’ll take 1 mph because what it is finally starting to show, possibly, is what our forecast has been saying for days and days and days,” said National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham. “It’s going to start moving northwest and it will speed up with time.”
Dorian expanded in size as its wind speeds decreased, sending tropical-storm force winds out 175 miles from its center. Hurricane-force winds reached 60 miles from Dorian’s core. An NHC graphic from 2 p.m. showed Dorian-charged winds spilling as far inland as Lion Country Safari.
At its closest, the western edge of Dorian’s hurricane winds came as near as 60 miles to West Palm Beach, and within 100 miles of Miami, as calculated by Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Palm Beach County was forecast to experience its speediest gusts Tuesday and was kept under a tropical storm warning until it was lifted at 5 p.m. Records from the National Weather Service between Monday afternoon and 3 p.m. Tuesday showed the Juno Beach Pier topping the wind-speed list with a 4 a.m. gale of 61 mph. Florida Atlantic University’s stadium recorded a 41 mph gust, West Palm Beach reached 40 mph and the Lake Worth Pier hit 39 mph.
The waves and swollen high tides may end up being the more damaging natural hazard from Hurricane Dorian.
NWS meteorologist Paxton Fell said seas were forecast to be as high as 21 feet in the Gulf Stream with more inland seas rising to 15 feet. High tides swollen by Dorian’s winds bled into coastal streets, over sea walls, up storm drains and into the Two Georges restaurant in Boynton Beach, where the Intracoastal put the deck under several inches of water.
“While Dorian’s path has been better for Florida than it could have been, the Bahamas really took one on the chin,” said Klotzbach, who has family in Cape Canaveral. “This storm will be life-changing for them.”
Klotzbach said Dorian’s birth and evolution were unusual. The original forecast path had the possibility of Dorian getting shredded by the 10,000-foot mountains on Hispaniola. Instead it went over St. Lucia, knocking it off track and sending it east of Puerto Rico, where it sailed into hurricane heaven – an environment with low wind shear and warm water.
Weak steering currents deep in the atmosphere are to blame for Dorian’s aimlessness over the northern Bahamas.
It had been riding under the Bermuda High, forging west at the behest of the permanent clockwise churn in the Atlantic.
But then it reached the western edge and stalled, where it waited for a constipated atmosphere to fire up again.
Typically a stationary hurricane will start churning up cooler water from below, and that helps tame wind speeds.
“But in the Bahamas, it’s warm deeper and the Gulf Stream runs near there, so it’s constantly getting resupplied,” Klotzbach said.
Florida was out of the forecast track cone Tuesday, but Dorian’s high winds are expected to hug the coast with hurricane-force gusts getting cozy with the Cape Canaveral bump.
Dorian is expected to remain a Category 2 storm into Thursday as it follows the coast up to Nova Scotia.
The epic tropical cyclone has cemented itself in history regardless of its progression.
Dorian’s maximum sustained winds of 185 mph tied it for fifth place for strongest winds by any hurricane, typhoon or cyclone anywhere in the world since 1980, according to Klotzbach.
The Pacific basin’s Hurricane Patricia in 2015 is in first place with 215 mph winds.
Other Atlantic basin storms ahead of or tied with Dorian include 1980′s Allen with 190 mph winds, followed by the 185-mph monsters Gilbert (1988), and Wilma (2005)