With Florida now largely out of danger, the Carolinas are bracing for dangerous storm surge and destructive winds from a newly strengthened Hurricane Dorian, which is threatening the states with a major landfall.
The latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) show that Dorian has once again built up in speed and intensity after stalling over the Bahamas for two days earlier this week.
Dorian is currently moving northward at 8 mph, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 110 mph and stronger gusts, putting the storm at the higher end of the Category 2 range (96-110 mph).
The NHC believes the forecast motion will bring Dorian’s centre “near or over the coasts of eastern South
Carolina and southeastern North Carolina” during the next 12 to 24 hours.
With either a landfall or very near miss now looking likely, “destructive winds, flooding rains, and life-threatening storm surges” will continue to threaten the southeast US coast until Friday afternoon.
The sheer size of Dorian will also magnify its impact, as hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from its centre at present, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 195 miles.
Waters could rise up to 8ft above ground level on the South Carolina coast, and up to 15 inches of rain could fall in the coming days, with widespread flash-flooding expected.
With Dorian predicted to remain at Cat 2 strength tomorrow, its impact on the coastline of the Carolinas could become a major loss event for the insurance and reinsurance industry.
Catastrophe risk modeller RMS said that Cat 2 hurricanes that made landfall in Georgia and the Carolinas caused between $2 billion and $7.6 billion in insurance and reinsurance market losses.
Whilst Florida appears to have escaped the worst from Dorian, areas of the Bahamas have been utterly devasted, with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis calling the storm “one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history.”
The International Red Cross fears that 45% of homes Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos have been severely damaged or destroyed, representing some 13,000 properties.
Catastrophe risk modeller Karen Clark & Company (KCC) earlier provided a preliminary total loss estimate of $7 billion for the impact of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
Insurance penetration in the region is not substantial, but even so Swiss bank UBS Group AG estimates that industry losses could be between $500 million and $1 billion.
Dorian hit the Bahamas with winds of up to 185 mph on September 1, equalling the highest ever recorded at landfall, before stalling and battering some regions for two full days.
Witnesses said there is “nothing left” in the Marsh Harbour area of the Abaco Islands, and the current death toll of 20 is expecting to rise significantly. UN officials believe some 70,000 people in the Bahamas are in “immediate need” of aid.
Remarkably, based on the NHC’s current projected path, Dorian could make landfall in Newfoundland, Canada on Sunday morning as a weak Category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of 75 mph.
The NHC’s full statement on the projected path of Dorian said: “Dorian is moving toward the north-northeast near 8 mph (13 km/h). A turn toward the northeast is anticipated by tonight, and a northeastward motion at a faster forward speed is forecast on Friday.”
“On the forecast track, the center of Dorian will continue to move close to the coast of South Carolina today, and then move near or over the coast of North Carolina tonight and Friday,” it went on. “The center should move to the southeast of extreme southeastern New England Friday night and Saturday morning, and approach Nova Scotia later on Saturday.”
The Center also warned: “Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds are expected along portions the coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina, and portions of southeast Virginia and the southern Chesapeake Bay, regardless of the exact track of Dorian’s center. Water levels could rise well in advance of the arrival of strong winds.”
“Flash flooding will become increasingly likely across the eastern Carolinas today,” it added. “There is a high risk of flash flooding over coastal sections of the Carolinas where life-threatening flash flooding is expected.”