Hurricane Matthew has lived up to the hype it’s received the past few days. Less than 160 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, Matthew has strengthened once again to a Category 4 as the National Hurricane Center is conveying the message of an “extremely dangerous hurricane” heading for the East Coast.
A distinct eye has become present this morning after barreling through the Bahamas. Matthew is forecast to track along the Gulf Stream throughout Thursday and will continue to intensify. Current winds are measured at 120 knots. The National Hurricane Center forecasts winds to increase to 125 knots, with gusts of 150 knots, by this evening. One huge factor around the Bahamas and Florida is the Gulf Stream. The required sea surface temperatures (SSTs) needed for hurricane development/intensification is 82°F. However looking at the observations from the Gulf Stream we are seeing SSTs in the mid 80s, which creates a very conducive environment for tropical intensification.
Over the past few days, models have continually shifted the track further west. A large ridge in the Atlantic has been the dominating cause in the track modification and will continue to steer the storm over the next 48 hours. The National Hurricane Center has Matthew tracking directly along the Florida coast, parallel to I-95, impacting West Palm Beach early Friday morning. Radar showing outer rain bands pushing into northern Florida now (1pm ET). The lowest measured pressure dropped to 939mb, as of Thursday morning’s Hurricane Hunters reconnaissance aircraft observation. The strongest winds and highest storm surge will occur along the coast in the eyewall. The 00Z run of the ECMWF forecasts a landfall overnight Thursday into Friday near West Palm Beach Florida. Numerous models have been indecisive on an actual landfall location from run to run. Regardless of landfall or not, major hurricane-like conditions will be felt along the coast of Florida. By definition, a landfall is determined if the center of the eye passes over land. Two of the most well-known global models, GFS and ECMWF, both agree on a landfall early overnight Thursday. However, each differ a little on timing and a location close to 65 nautical miles. If Matthew makes landfall, it will be the first major hurricane to make a landfall along the coast of Florida since Wilma in 2005.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for the coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in preparation for the monstrous Category 4 storm. Disney World in Orlando will be closing their doors beginning 5pm Thursday through Friday due to Hurricane Matthew, the 4th time the park has closed since opening in 1971. Hurricane warnings now extend up through Edisto Beach, South Carolina as folks along the coast brace for a rare, disastrous storm surge and catastrophic winds. Offshore of Florida, the National Weather Service in Melbourne, FL is forecasting seas possible of 40 feet with a storm surge of 3-5 feet crashing into the coast. Surface winds along the coast, and possibly inland, of 145mph which is equivalent of a Category 3 or stronger. Widespread power outages are expected along the East Coast spanning nearly 200+ miles. Typically in Category 3 storms, mobile and poorly constructed homes are often destroyed and widespread inland flooding becomes a large concern. The NWS states “effects such as these ranging from the coast to well inland have not been experienced in Central Florida in decades”.
The storm is expected to weaken due to interaction with land as it tracks up the East Coast. Hurricane-like conditions are possible along the Georgia coastline Friday afternoon into Saturday. South Carolina is bracing for possible hurricane-like conditions Saturday into Sunday.
Hurricane Matthew has yet to hit the United States and has already broke records. Matthew became the first Atlantic Category 5 hurricane since Felix in 2007. In terms of longevity, Matthew maintained a Category 4-5 hurricane strength for 102 hours claiming the top spot for the longest hurricane of that strength during the month of October in the Atlantic Basin.
Where will Matthew go after the Carolinas? Global models largely differ after Monday on the track of the storm. The GFS has been consistent the past few runs creating a giant loop and leading the storm back into the Gulf of Mexico, specifically the Bay of Campeche by middle of next week. However the ECMWF keeps the storm east of Florida in the Atlantic. Stay tuned for an update on the long-term track on Friday.