Severe Weather Team 2 says they expect 3-5 feet of storm surge along parts of the coast

Dorian regains strength, becomes Category 3 hurricane off Georgia coast 

As the death toll in the Bahamas climbed to 20, Georgia’s coastline continues to deal with a rising storm surge, power outages and tropical storm force winds.

At the same time, Hurricane Dorian is regaining its strength.

While crawling north along the coastline, Dorian was upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane at 11 p.m. with sustained wind speeds at 115 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. 


 

Its effects can be clearly seen in the Savannah River’s water level, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said. The river is running about 3.5 feet above its typical water level at low tide near Tybee Island.

The storm surge threat will only increase into early Thursday morning, he said. 


 

As the hurricane neared Georgia’s coast earlier Tuesday, nine more counties were added to the state of emergency, bringing the total to 21. The newly added counties were Appling, Bacon, Bullock, Clinch, Echols, Evans, Screven, Tattnall and Ware.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Dorian’s outer bands reach South Georgia

RELATED: Economists pan price gouging laws as Dorian nears

Shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp expanded the state of emergency, I-16’s eastbound lanes were reopened. However, it was not an invitation for the general public to go to the coast. It was to expedite access for rescuers, supplies and equipment after the hurricane passes, Kemp said.

Kemp had already taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach and ordered evacuations for residents east of I-95 in six coastal counties. A steady stream of coastal Georgians headed out of the region Tuesday, and those who stayed behind hunkered down.

Here are the latest updates: 

11 p.m.: Despite restrengthening to a Category 3 hurricane, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said Georgia’s coast isn’t experiencing significantly stronger wind gusts.

“All those hurricane-force winds are well offshore,” he said. “Along our beaches and coastal counties, that’s where the tropical storm-force winds are. We’re talking in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 mph with some gusts at 50 (mph).”

Dorian has slowed slightly to 7 mph, but it continues to crawl north about 75 miles east of Savannah, the National Hurricane Center said. Since it’s moving so slowly, tropical storm-force winds are expected near Savannah through noon Thursday.


Most of Georgia’s coastline is experiencing about 3 to 6 feet of storm surge, Nitz said. Along the Savannah River, some spots are seeing water levels at more than 3 feet higher than usual.

By 8 p.m. Thursday, the storm is expected to make landfall near Wilmington, N.C., according to the latest projected path. By then, Dorian would have weakened to a Category 2 storm with sustained winds at 105 mph.

Photo: Channel 2 Action News

7 p.m.: Nearly 200 Georgia National Guardsmen were activated to aid with Dorian.

Elements of the Decatur-based 170th Military Police Battalion and Tifton-based 110th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion are expected to provide support for law enforcement, according to a news release.

Gov. Brian Kemp has authorized the activation of up to 2,000 Georgia National Guard personnel.


 

5:15 p.m.: The eye of Hurricane Dorian was located east of the southeastern Georgia coast and its winds had strengthened a bit, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm was packing winds of 110 mph and had slowed its north-northwest movement a bit to 8 mph.

With the strong winds come the possibility for storm surge flooding, the main threat for Georgia’s coast, Channel 2 meteorologist Brad Nitz said.

Cheryl Conners looks over flood waters surrounding Langs Marina near her home in St. Marys during Hurricane Dorian on Wednesday.   
Photo: CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

“The worst of it unfortunately is still to come in the hours ahead,” Nitz said. “By (Thursday), it is going to be over for us and the Georgia coast.”

The worst of the flooding in the Savannah area is expected to come around 1:20 a.m., Nitz said, and vary about an hour further south down the coast.


 

Dorian is expected to approach the South Carolina coast Wednesday night and then move near or over that coast Thursday. The storm then moves on to North Carolina Thursday night and Friday.

4:20 p.m.: Several thousand people on the Georgia coast are without power, rising from earlier in the day.

Georgia Power was reporting 2,800 in the dark in the Savannah and Brunswick areas while Georgia EMC, which serves the remaining southeast coastal areas, was reporting 2,000 without power. That was up from 1,200 in the early afternoon but down from a brief high of 3,400 in midafternoon.

Also, for a brief period, 1,400 people far inland in South Georgia, along the Florida coast, were without power, according to the Georgia EMC power outage map.

Spokeswoman Terri Statham said such oscillations were typical, as repair workers fixed a circuit and lit up multiple homes.

Meanwhile, Georgia Southern University announced that class cancellation will be extended through Friday to afford time for any necessary travel and cleanup.

2 p.m.: Dorian was approaching Georgia’s doorstep, swirling off the coast of Jacksonville on a north-northwest trajectory at 9 mph, with a northward turn expected at night.

A weather station in Huguenot Park, Fla., reported sustained winds of 40 mph with a gust of 54 mph, while a buoy in the Atlantic saw a little more energy, with sustained winds of 49 mph. The numbers were similar to earlier reports.

Officials were continuing to project the possibility of water rising along the Georgia coast ahead of the strong winds, reaching 3-5 feet above ground with 3-6 inches of rain forecast.

Residents walk along the shore of Tybee Island as Dorian nears Wednesday afternoon. 
Photo: JEREMY REDMON / JREDMON@AJC.COM

1:30 p.m.: “This is not a welcome mat to say, ‘Head back to the coast,’” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said at a 1 p.m. news conference with the governor. McMurry was talking about the decision to open eastbound lanes of I-16 a day after closing them in what’s called “contraflow,” when only traffic toward the interior is allowed.

Kemp said there was still time to leave the coast, with westbound traffic light, but acknowledged some would be staying put. He urged them to shelter in the strongest part of their house and to beware of falling trees and downed power lines.

Noon: Hurricane Dorian has accelerated to 9 m.p.h. as it grinds north-northwest toward Georgia. 

The Category 2 hurricane has been lashing the Florida coast with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph and higher gusts. It is expected to remain a powerhouse for a “few” days, according to an 11 a.m. bulletin from the National Hurricane Center.

The monster has tentacles extending 70 miles from its core as it spins counter-clockwise, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 175 miles. A federal buoy off the Georgia coast recently reported sustained winds of 40 m.p.h. and a wind gust of 47 m.p.h. Several hours before that, a government weather station in St. Augustine Beach, Fla. reported sustained winds of 46 m.p.h. with a wind gust of 59.

On the current projected storm track, Dorian will move dangerously close to the Georgia coast through the early morning hours Thursday, bringing tropical storm conditions inland.

If it hits Georgia’s coast during the peak of high tide this afternoon, the water could reach 3-5 feet above the ground. It is predicted to produce 3-6 inches of rain along the entire Georgia coast, with as much as 9 inches in some spots, with potentially life-threatening flash floods. Water levels could rise “well in advance” of the strong winds, with surge-related flooding dependent upon how closely Dorian spins toward the coast.

“A slow weakening is expected during the next few days,” the hurricane center bulletin said. “However, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during this time.” The agency said a tornado or two are possible along the coast of Georgia this afternoon.

Around 10 a.m., rain and wind was starting to whip St. Simons Island, according to WSB-TV. High tide was expected after 1 p.m.

Dorian devestated The Bahamas, and communities across the country have begun helping the relief effort, including metro Atlanta. DeKalb County designated two drop-off sites for food and other supplies, at the county tax commissioner’s office on Memorial Drive and at the county courthouse in Decatur.

But Dorian has weakened on its approach to Georgia. State officials were preparing to restore access to Savannah, with plans to re-open Interstate-16 to eastbound traffic starting at noon Wednesday, a top Chatham County official announced.

Local officials took that as a good sign a day after the eastbound on ramps were blocked, leaving only the lanes traveling inland open to traffic, in what is called “contraflow.”

“I am glad they are going to turn it around,” Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said.

Despite that, local officials reiterated the importance of heading west.

“We do encourage you to leave, if you still choose to leave. You still have time to do so,” Chatham County emergency management director Dennis Jones said.

Some remained unconcerned. To the south, where it was gusty with patches of rain in St. Marys, Scott Vincent decided to go fishing. He took frozen shrimp to the St. Marys River, planning to use it as bait for flounder. He planned to grill if the power went out.

“I work all the time, so I figured I’d get a day off, I’d fish,” the Boston native said. He was dubious about the impact of the hurricane, but admitted it’s slow-motion roll may be lulling people into a false sense of security.

“That might fool people,” he said.

About 30 miles up the coast, Glynn County along with Jekyll 

Island “are experiencing the outer rain bands of Hurricane Dorian,” said county spokesman Matthew Kent just before 11 a.m. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they were expecting flooding in some parts of Brunswick but the F. J. Torras Causeway to St. Simons Island, which has closed during past hurricane, was still open.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Latest news, updates on Hurricane Dorian


 

8 a.m.: Hurricane Dorian is currently lashing the northeastern Florida coast as it grinds north toward the Georgia coast at 8 m.p.h. Wednesday morning. It is expected to veer northwest a little through the morning, putting it “dangerously close” to Georgia coast through tonight, the National Hurricane Center warned in an advisory at 8 a.m. 

The storm is currently a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph and higher gusts. It is expected to remain a powerhouse for a “few” days.The monster has tentacles extending 60 miles from its core as it spins counter-clockwise, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 175 miles.

A government weather station in St. Augustine Beach, Fla. reported sustained winds of 46 m.p.h. with a wind gust of 59.On the current projected storm track, Dorian will move dangerously close to the Georgia coast through the early morning hours Thursday, bringing tropical storm conditions inland.

If it hits Georgia’s coast during the peak of high tide, the water could reach 3-5 feet above the ground. It is predicted to produce 3-6 inches of rain along the entire Georgia coast, with as much as 9 inches in some spots, with potentially life-threatening flash floods. Water levels could rise “well in advance” of the strong winds, with surge-related flooding dependent upon how closely Dorian spins toward the coast.

It could bring tornadoes over the next day or so.

“Some weakening is expected during the next couple of days,” the hurricane center bulletin said. “However, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next few days.”

5 a.m.: The Daytona Beach area is experiencing tropical storm conditions Wednesday morning as the storm moves about 145 km offshore. The outer bands of the storm were just reaching Georgia’s Golden Isles at 5:30 a.m.

As Dorian moves closer, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brian Monahan said the coast can expect some breaks between the squalls until tropical storm conditions settle in.

“Conditions are going downhill along the Georgia coast,” he said. “This is the leading edge of those tropical storm conditions. The threat will be there over the next 24 hours.”


 

While the Bahamas are now in the clear, tropical storm warnings and storm surge warnings continue in Florida and along the entire Georgia coast. A hurricane watch is in effect offshore to the south of the Savannah River, and a hurricane warning is in effect to the north.

MORE: Chatham warns of tropical storm-force winds, storm surges from Dorian

“The latest update we have from the National Hurricane Center brings even stronger wind very, very close now to the Georgia coast,” Monahan said. “From roughly Savannah and Tybee Island down toward St. Simons ... we could have some wind gusts 50 to 55 mph.”

Storm surge remains the biggest concern, he said. Surges could reach three to six feet at high tide as Dorian pushes water ashore. 


 

Wind is picking up Wednesday morning and sea levels are rising, according to Channel 2. Gusts of up to 30 mph were recorded near St. Simons, and seas are already about two to four feet above predicted levels. 


 

As Dorian moves farther up the East Coast, rescues are underway in the Bahamas. At least seven deaths have been reported in the Bahamas, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown, The Associated Press reported. 

Officials have begun to survey the damage after what was the most powerful storm to hit the nation in recorded history parked over Abaco and Grand Bahama Island before moving into open waters Tuesday. 

At its worst, Hurricane Dorian pounded the islands with 185 mph winds as a Category 5 storm. Even as it diminished in strength, the storm sat nearly stationary for the better part of 48 hours, causing widespread destruction and flooding. 

The Grand Bahama International Airport is underwater Wednesday, along with most of the northern shore of the island. 

Bahamas’ prime minister, Hubert Minnis, has pledged that no effort or resources will be held back, calling the event one of the “greatest national crises in our country’s history.”

Tyler Perry, an “adoptive son” of the Bahamas, has also pledged his support. The Atlanta entertainment mogul owns a private island in the archipelago.

In a social media post, Perry promised that “as soon as I can, I will be there to do whatever I can to help you rebuild stronger and better.”

RELATED: Tyler Perry vows to help the Bahamas after Dorian devastation

With Dorian weakening, the Florida and Georgia coasts are not expected to see devastation on the same level as the Bahamas. Dorian could still be a life-threatening storm, officials have warned.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday evening urged residents who have refused to heed evacuation orders to leave for safer ground. The window for evacuation is closing quickly and may become impossible over the next few hours. 

Dorian is “not a storm to mess with,” he said.

MORE: As Dorian nears, residents on coast stay calm and carry on

Hundreds of Savannah residents boarded buses Tuesday. The mayor of Tybee Island estimated about half of the island’s 30,000 residents had evacuated, while all of its tourists had gone.

Now, Georgia waits. 

» For a detailed forecast, visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution weather page.

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