Hurricane Dorian has strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 180 mph — and it may still grow more powerful, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Dorian will strike the Bahamas today as “the strongest hurricane in modern records” to hit the archipelago, according to the NHC. It is expected to bring a prolonged period of “catastrophic winds” and storm surge to the Abaco Islands.

The NHC said efforts to “protect life and property on Grand Bahama Island should be rushed to completion.” It warned that the Bahama Islands could experience up to 30 inches of rains, leading to “life-threatening flash floods in northern portions of the Bahamas.”

The storm’s projected path shifted east on Saturday, increasing the likelihood that it will bring strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the coasts of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. And while Florida may now avoid a direct hit, the NHC said life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are possible along portions of Florida’s east coast through mid-week.

On Sunday morning, Ken Graham, director of the NHC, described how the storm is strengthening.

“The windfield is expanding. It’s getting stronger, and the windfield is expanding, which is not a good combination at all,” Graham said. “The actual hurricane force winds are starting to extend further out from the center … Florida will start to experience some of these winds over time.”

Graham said parts of the Florida coast could experience four to seven feet of storm surge, and that historically 50% of fatalities during tropical storms are from storm surge. He says Florida will continue to feel the effects of the storm into Tuesday morning.

Graham advised residents to pay close attention to warnings and advisories from local officials.

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