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Hurricane Dorian Update: Headed to Florida as a Category 4 Storm

Hurricane Dorian is now expected to become a Category 4 storm with winds reaching 130 miles per hour before it makes landfall on Florida’s east coast, in what would be the first major hurricane to hit the area in 15 years.

President Donald Trump canceled a planned trip to Poland this weekend because of the storm, due to make landfall either Sunday night or Monday, two people familiar with the matter said. The hurricane’s center was located about 330 miles (535 kilometers) east of the Bahamas as of 5 p.m. New York time, moving northwest with sustained winds of about 85 miles per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Dorian is expected to gain strength as it moves toward land. It’s still too early to say where it will hit — Florida’s governor expanded a state of emergency to 67 counties from 26, citing the “uncertain projected path.” The storm could impact counties with average insured values of $53 billion, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, while Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research, sees losses in the $10 billion range. Orange juice prices surged with estimates that about 60% of the state’s main orange-growing region could be affected.

As Dorian stays over warm waters on its way to Florida, the storm is forecast to reach Category 4 status, one below the most powerful measurement on the Saffir-Simpson scale, in 72 hours. “There is an increasing likelihood of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida east coast late this weekend or early next week, although it is too soon to determine where the highest storm surge will occur,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

A Category 4 hurricane can tear the walls and roofs off homes, snap most trees it hits and topple power lines causing outages that could last weeks or months, the hurricane center said. Areas in the storm’s direct path could be “uninhabitable for weeks or months.’’

One key concern is if the storm slows as it hits the coast, said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger LLC in Tallahassee, Florida. This could raise the risk of flooding rains, he said.

“Somewhere is going to get destructive winds that are capable of doing structural damage,’’ Truchelut said by telephone. “The surge along the right of the track is going to be 9 to 12 feet in some places.’’

The northwest Bahamas and coastal sections of the southeast U.S. are expected to see 4 inches to 8 inches of rain this weekend and into early next week. Isolated rainfall accumulations of 12 inches are also expected, the hurricane center reported, adding that the rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods.

While Puerto Rico’s east end saw heavy rain from the storm’s outer bands, the main part of the island remained largely unaffected, easing concern Dorian might further devastate an island still recovering from Hurricane Maria’s 155 mph winds in 2017.

The last major hurricane to make landfall along the central coast of Florida carrying winds of 111 mph or more was Jeanne in 2004, said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher with Colorado State University.

Dorian is threatening to become the strongest storm to hit anywhere in Florida since Hurricane Michael landed last year as a category 5 storm causing about $10 billion in insured losses.

If Dorian moves into central Florida, citrus growers “should be concerned because the event would bring a lot of rain and probably strong winds,” said Donald Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist at Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Maxar. The state’s biggest producing counties include Hendry, DeSoto, Polk and Highlands, all located in that region.

Dan Richey, chief executive officer at Riverfront Packing Co. in Vero Beach, has reason to be concerned. His company, with 4,000 acres planted mostly with grapefruit, oranges and lemons, was last hit badly in 2004 by hurricanes Jeanne and Frances, when the company lost between 60% to 70% of the crop.

In its current path, Dorian could hit at least a quarter of the state’s major citrus areas, and its strength could knock fruit off trees and cause major damage, Drew Lerner, president of World Weather Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas, said by telephone. On a worst-case basis, he estimated the effect could reach 60% of the main orange growing region.

“This won’t happen until early next week, we are about four days away, so we have to be careful,” Lerner said. “There’s still plenty of time for the path to change.”

Orange juice future jumped for a fourth straight day in the longest rally since May 28.

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