Hurricane Dorian is expected to skirt the Florida and Georgia coasts overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, then move northward to threaten the South and North Carolina coasts later in the week, the National Hurricane Center said.
Landfall in Charleston, Wilmington or the Outer Banks is not out of the question, CNN meteorologist Judson Jones said.
"The hurricane is forecast to track dangerously close to the Carolinas," Jones said. "Any wobble to the West and the chances of landfall in South and North Carolina is more likely. Currently, a few of the forecast models have shown a slight westward trend, which is something meteorologists will continue to watch closely."
Officials in the Carolinas are clearly worried about the Category 2 storm, which ravaged the Bahamas and is packing sustained winds of 110 mph.
"There is a real triple threat when high tides and heavy rains and storm surge happens at the same time," Charleston Mayor John Tecklenberg said Tuesday night on CNN. "Take this storm seriously."
The National Weather Service in Wilmington upgraded its storm surge and hurricane watches to warnings on Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper issued a mandatory evacuation order for North Carolina's barrier islands.
"Please heed any evacuation orders from local emergency officials where you live," Cooper said. "Don't try to ride it out. You're putting your life at risk. You're also putting at risk the lives of first responders who may have to rescue you."
As Dorian leaves the Bahamas and hooks northward, the risk of hurricane-force winds along North Carolina's coast rises, and the treat of flash floods spreads from the Florida coast up the Southeast and mid-Atlantic coast for the rest of the week.
"The center of Dorian is forecast to move near or over the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina Thursday through Friday morning," the National Hurricane Center said.
The hurricane has already pummeled the Bahamas, causing at least seven deaths and yet-untold destruction from flooding and wind damage. But the storm has not, as American officials had worried, torn up the eastern coast of Florida.
Dorian has decreased from its earlier strength, but the hurricane is growing in size. Hurricane-force winds extend out 60 miles from the center, while tropical storm-force winds extend out 175 miles, the National Hurricane Center said.
In its 9 p.m. ET advisory, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was about 110 miles east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and picking up speed from its days-long standstill, moving to the northwest at about 6 mph. The official forecast predicts that the storm's center will stay about 100 miles off the coast, but hurricane-force wind gusts are likely to be overland along Florida's east coast. A storm surge of 4 to 7 feet is also possible along the coast.
Todd Terrell tells CNN the United Cajun Navy has evolving plans for Dorian. He says the volunteer rescue group has convoys on the way to Savannah and Wilmington to stage in those locations. Some are already there in place.
Ten Florida counties were under mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday, and five were under voluntary evacuation orders. Six coastal counties in Georgia, eight in South Carolina and at least three counties in North Carolina are under mandatory evacuation orders.
But some parts of the Sunshine State were easing their expectations. Several counties, including parts of populous Palm Beach County, lifted their mandatory evacuation orders on Tuesday. Palm Beach County also said its shelters will close at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Disney adjusted park hours -- closing the Magic Kingdom at 3 p.m. Tuesday, for instance -- but announced normal operations will resume Wednesday at all theme parks.
Risk of cabin fever
Dorian traveled just 30 miles in 30 hours from midnight Monday through Tuesday morning. The slow speed of the storm meant that Florida residents have been hunkered down in anticipation of the storm for almost a week now. Schools and offices are shut down, beaches are closed and residents along the water or other low-lying areas have evacuated.
For now, Florida officials said they were worried that restless residents might lower their guards and venture outside to stave off cabin fever amid still-dangerous winds, rain and flooding.
"The images coming in from the Bahamas are gut wrenching, but show exactly how fortunate Florida has been with this storm, however, there will still be impacts in Florida from Hurricane Dorian," said Jared Moskowitz, the director of the state's division of emergency management.
"The amount of time it's taken for this storm to get here is unlike any of the storms we've seen before, and I believe that is becoming one of the biggest hazards," St. Augustine Beach Mayor Undine George said. "People are getting tired and fatigued from the message, but they need to heed the warnings."
Florida is experiencing rain, wind, flooding and storm surge from Dorian, and there has already been one death in pre-storm preparations.
David Allen Bradley, 68, was putting up plywood when he fell three stories to his death, Indialantic Police Chief Mike Connor told CNN.
Bradley was on a small ladder trying to cover up the windows to his home Sunday afternoon. His wife was inside at the moment of the incident and ran outside when she heard the crash. By the time police got there, it was too late, Connor said.
Early Tuesday, a St. Lucie County Sheriff's deputy patrolling flooded areas was injured in a head-on crash. The driver of the other vehicle admitted to being under the influence of alcohol and drugs and was driving with a suspended license, police said. Both the deputy and the driver were transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries.