Welcome to September in Florida, Walt Disney World fans! When it’s fall everywhere else, we’re still living up late summer… especially with hurricane season.
It’s fairly difficult to write up a forecast for this week’s weather at Walt Disney World, thanks to Hurricane Dorian. For the past week, this storm has been playing with our nerves, and defying our meteorologists. With the forecast never accurate more than a day or two out, the storm has managed to duck past the supercomputers and exceed their expectations over and over again. Remember last week when we were expecting the mountains of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico to take this fledgling system down? Dorian just skipped to the east and paid them no mind.
The one thing Dorian has done according to book? Slow down and intensify to a Category Five storm. Not too shabby for a little cyclone that couldn’t even be found by the Euro model ten days ago.
This rapid intensification has occurred terribly close to land, and as I write this, the center of Hurricane Dorian is coming close to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. A hurricane hunter aircraft has just reported sustained winds of 175 miles per hour with higher gusts. This is a terrible storm.
How is it going to affect us here in central Florida, and the Walt Disney World Resort?
This week’s weather at Walt Disney World
There will certainly be rain. We are already seeing our normal shower activity enhanced by Hurricane Dorian’s approach as well as a departing trough. On Saturday, the onshore flow we’d had for the past day became stronger as pressure ahead of Dorian continued to tighten. An easterly breeze kept quick-moving showers moving through the area all day. These showers were quick to develop and quick to collapse, leading to some surprising downpours at times, but no part of the day was a washout.
For the rest of Sunday, the breeze shifts and comes out of the east-northeast or northeast. Hurricane Dorian brings extremely low pressure wrapped around its core, and the pressure gradient, which is the difference between areas of high and low pressure, will continue to tighten over the area. This is going to kick up our breezes and we could see some gusts up to 25 miles per hour this afternoon and evening. Quickly moving showers and afternoon storms will ride these breezes, and the high should top out close to 90 degrees. Overnight should dry out a little with a chance of showers and a low around 76.
For Monday through Wednesday, the forecast is a little murky. Without knowing precisely when Hurricane Dorian will begin to turn northwest, and then north, we can’t pinpoint how strong our wind or rain will be. The expectation of a northwest turn as Dorian moves through the northern Bahamas is timed for late Monday. At this point, the outer bands of the storm, which include tropical-storm force sustained winds and heavy rain, would directly affect the coast of Florida.
From overnight Monday into Wednesday, the storm is forecast to move northwest to north, roughly parallel the Florida east coast. In this scenario, we are looking at quickly moving rain bands and squally weather from Monday afternoon through Wednesday. Sustained tropical storm-force winds (up to 73 miles per hour) are possible, although not considered particularly likely for Orlando at this time. The National Weather Service threat level for Orlando is currently for a potential of winds 39-57 miles per hour.
So if this forecast holds, the beginning to middle of the week will be fairly gray, with low clouds, quickly moving rain squalls, gusty winds, and some growls of thunder. There would be a chance of some very high rain totals. But it all depends on how close (or how far away) the center of Hurricane Dorian remains from the east coast of Florida.
No matter where the hurricane’s center passes, it’s quite likely that by Thursday and Friday, we’ll have a pair of dry, sunny days before the Florida rain machine picks up where it left off over the weekend. Departing hurricanes leave behind high pressure and low moisture. Everything gets back to normal after by Saturday or Sunday, with the return of normal moisture for our continuing rainy season, and temperatures around 90 once again.
How will all of this affect your week at the parks? Historically, Walt Disney World has operated at full capacity during tropical storm conditions, with just usual closures for rain and lightning. Tropical storm squalls usually fluctuate: it’s storming, then it isn’t, then it is again—which can lead to some fun times if you don’t mind getting wet and running away from sudden downpours. The exception is the water parks, which sometimes close if the weather is expected to be stormy all day long.
So if the hurricane holds to its current forecasted track, it will be a wet and windy, but not washout, week for us here. However, it’s so important to remember that hurricanes wobble. They wiggle. They turn unexpectedly. They operate on their own terms. Hurricanes with extremely deep pressure cores and large wind-fields can behave unexpectedly because they are literally making their own weather.
Hurricanes over the years have proven that point, again and again. Hurricane Charley moved directly over the Walt Disney World area in 2004. It was forecast to make landfall in Tampa and pass north of Orlando. Instead, it took a last-minute turn, made landfall in southwest Florida, and cut right through the center of the state. Hurricane Matthew just missed making landfall on Florida’s coast in 2016 and instead moved up the coastline an unexpected 30 miles east of its target, thanks to an eyewall replacement cycle which caused the core of the storm to shift abruptly east. Hurricane Irma’s last-minute shift into Florida has been the cause of speculation by meteorologists, with some thinking that the storm’s asymmetric rainfall and the subsequent differences in the heating of the clouds caused its shift eastward. How’s that for an esoteric science?
The bottom line is that when there’s a hurricane on the horizon, all you can do is wait and stay informed. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World this week, be aware that operating hours and showtimes could change without much warning. Pay attention if you notice signs at your resort regarding dining hours or severe weather updates. If the front desk calls and leaves you a message, be sure to listen to it. Everyone at Orlando’s theme parks, attractions, and hotels wants to make sure you have a wonderful vacation—and that everyone stays safe while making that happen.
It’s also worth noting, before we close out, that the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are both open for business and producing tropical systems. Here is Sunday morning’s satellite imagery.
This map was blank just a few weeks ago, and now we have three areas of interest for tropical cyclone development outside of the obvious, Dorian. Of these, number two is tracking west and isn’t expected to develop, and number three is moving north and not of any threat to the US. Number one, out in the Cape Verde Islands, is likely to be our next tropical depression as it moves slowly northwestward across the ocean.
For the rest of September, we can expect this map to be active. Get the latest here, and follow my weather account, WeatheratWDW, for updates on both everyday weather and tropical weather affecting the parks.