Following a two-week reign of destruction, Hurricane Dorian is finally pulling away from the United States. After plowing through the Virgin Islands and sideswiping Puerto Rico, Dorian devastated the northwest Bahamas before unleashing a barrage of tornadoes and storm surge flooding in the Carolinas.
Dorian will go down in infamy as being the most destructive storm to hit Grand Bahama Island or Great Abaco Island, as well as tying the record for the strongest winds at landfall of any tropical cyclone in the North Atlantic Ocean Basin.
But Dorian wasn’t always the monster we knew it as.
It emerged off the coast of Africa as an African easterly wave Aug. 18. The nondescript flare-up of thunderstorm activity passed south of Cape Verde, catching the eyes of forecasters at the National Hurricane Center on Aug. 23.
Initially, the then-tropical wave didn’t look like much to write home about. The National Hurricane Center estimated that it had a 20 percent chance of development: “Additional slow development of this system is possible during the next few days.”
At 8 a.m. on Aug. 24, the disorganized mass of shower and thunderstorm activity was classified as a tropical depression. The National Hurricane Center noted that “gradual development is likely,” with the system expected to move northwestward “offshore of the southeastern United States.”
Nine hours later, Dorian was born.
The hurricane center issued a bulletin reading, “Depression strengthens into the fourth tropical storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season.” That was Aug. 24.
On Aug. 26, Puerto Rico found itself under a tropical storm watch. Originally forecast to weave through the Mona passage west of Puerto Rico, Dorian sidestepped forecasters’ plans, shuffling its circulation eastward and hitting the U.S. Virgin Islands instead. This occurred Aug. 28. As reports of strong winds, including a gust of 111 mph on Buck Island south of St. Thomas, began pouring in, Dorian was unsurprisingly classified as a hurricane.
And so it began.
Its circulation uninterrupted after its brush with the islands, Dorian was left to intensify. Rapid intensification occurred between Aug. 30 and 31. Winds leaped from 105 mph to 140 mph. The sun set Saturday night on a Category 4 monster on the cusp of Category 5 as it made a beeline for Abaco. And then, just a few miles per hour before Category 5 strength, Dorian did the unthinkable.
It again underwent rapid intensification — a term used for a jump of 35 mph or more in sustained wind speeds in 24 hours.
It was a Category 5 when it slammed into Abaco on Sunday, but it kept intensifying. At 5 a.m., Dorian featured 150 mph winds tightly coiled around its razor-sharp eye. By 2 p.m., the “catastrophic hurricane” had sustained winds of 185 mph, along with a storm surge “as much as 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels.” That rapid intensification took place in only 10 hours.
At 3 p.m., the eye of Dorian began to sweep across Abaco, and the National Hurricane Center issued a dire statement. “This is a life-threatening situation,” it wrote. “Residents in the Abacos should stay in their shelter. Do not venture into the eye if it passes over your location.” The agency warned of “extreme destruction” that would “continue for several hours” as winds gusted to over 220 mph.
The morning after, Dorian began its days-long pounding of Grand Bahama as a 150 mph Category 4. The National Hurricane Center emphasized the incredible long-duration nature of the storm, stating that “hazards will continue over Grand Bahama Island during most of [Monday.]” Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, found that Dorian tracked only 25 miles in 24 hours.
Afterward, our analysis showed that some locations on Grand Bahama Island experienced 100-plus mph winds for more than 24 hours. Dorian’s eyewall slammed Grand Bahama for at least 40 hours straight.
In the wake of the cataclysmic devastation, Grand Bahama and Abaco islands may take years to fully recover.
Now, Dorian is barreling northeast, through the Canadian Maritimes, before being absorbed by weather systems near the Arctic.
The name “Dorian” will undoubtedly be retired from the National Hurricane Center’s six-year rotating name list, replaced with some other male “D” name.
On behalf of all of us who are storm-weary, we’re happy to say: So long and farewell, Dorian.