Now jeopardizing the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian is still too far from Long Island to predict any effects, the National Weather Service said Saturday, as the storm ascended to the catastrophic Category 4 more swiftly than expected.
Dorian's latest trajectory, a number of forecasters said, looks less alarming for Florida, where some coastal residents already were waiting in long lines for gasoline and supplies. Its current path, however, is potentially worse for Georgia and the Carolinas.
Though the storm's track has changed, "The take-away here is: 'There is still some uncertainty; you can't let your guard down,'" said National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham, speaking live on Facebook. Dorian's eye is 15 nautical miles wide; its top sustained winds are 150 mph — and gusts of nearly 185 mph have been clocked, the center said.
Should its wind speed increase just 7 mph to 157, it becomes a Category 5 hurricane.
Meteorologists are not predicting where the storm will head if it makes landfall in southeastern states.
"I think just because it's such a slow-moving storm, it's still over a week out," said Carlie Buccola, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Islip.
As superstorm Sandy so amply demonstrated in 2012, slowpoke storms can be among the most destructive.
"We only forecast on Long Island out to Friday," said Buccola. "Right now, the National Hurricane Center has the storm still off the coast of Georgia on Thursday."
Islip is one of the National Weather Service locations around the nation that have doubled the number of high-altitude weather balloons it releases to four a day — one every six hours — to help predict Dorian's track, Buccola said.
"Pretty much the entire eastern half of the country is launching double the number of balloons per day to get better data into the models," she said.
Small disposable instruments with sensors called radiosondes hang 80 to 115 feet below the balloons, which soar as high as 20 miles above the Earth and, if they encounter a jet stream, can travel as fast as 250 mph, according to the weather service.
The radiosondes, which people can return to the weather service if found, might transmit for around two hours. The diameter of the balloons, about 5 feet when launched, slowly increases as they climb because the air pressure declines. The balloons pop when their diameter reaches 20 to 25 feet.
"A small, orange colored parachute slows the descent of the radiosonde, minimizing the danger to lives and property," the weather service said. In this area, most radiosondes with their parachutes fall into the ocean, Buccola said.