(This story has been updated)
Early Tuesday morning, Hurricane Matthew crashed ashore in Haiti as a powerful Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds. It was the strongest hurricane to do so since Hurricane Cleo in 1964, which made landfall in the same location.
Matthew will barrel across the eastern tip of Cuba Tuesday night and reach the Bahamas Wednesday. It could close-in on Florida as soon as early Thursday, with a devastating combination of damaging winds, torrential rain and storm surge.
Model forecasts have continued to shift Matthew’s track closer to Florida’s east coast, and tropical storm or hurricane impacts are possible there Thursday into Friday. It is not out of the question Matthew could strike Florida’s East Coast as a Category 3 or stronger hurricane late Thursday or Friday. This would end a record-long streak of more than a decade in which the U.S. has avoided a landfalling hurricane so strong.
Matthew may then charge up the Southeastern coast toward the Mid-Atlantic into the weekend – although there’s a chance it meanders offshore the Southeast rather than turning north.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said a complete evacuation of the state’s coast would be necessary Wednesday, which would involve 1.1 million people.
The hurricane has remained strong, weakening only slightly despite making landfall in Haiti. At 5 p.m. Tuesday, its peak winds were 140 mph and the environment over the Bahamas is ripe for re-intensification Wednesday. These islands offer no resistance to a storm like Matthew, and hurricane warnings are in effect there.
Forecasts models have continued to edge Matthew’s track to the west closer to the United States, thanks to stronger high pressure to the northeast of the storm. The National Hurricane Center’s track forecast now brings the center of the storm very close to Melbourne, Fla., early Friday. Given the uncertainty in this forecast, though, the entire east coast of Florida must be in preparation mode Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, hurricane warning was placed in effect north of Golden Beach to Sebastian Inlet along Florida’s east coast and tropical storm warning from Chokoloskee to Golden Beach
After it passes Florida, there is some disagreement among forecast models on Matthew’s future track, but the most likely path is one that hugs the Southeast coast. It’s too early to make plans based on the forecast five to seven days out when uncertainty is still high over the next three days.
As of Tuesday evening, Matthew was not even north of Cuba, and the high pressure that’s expected to push the storm west has not materialized yet. Tiny variations in that high pressure will govern just how close the hurricane gets to Florida and the Carolinas this week.
Even so, many models are predicting that this storm will be a significant disruption for much of the East Coast over the next week, and coastal residents should be thinking about their plans. If the storm takes a track up the coast, it will be at least Friday night into Saturday morning until impacts are realized in the Outer Banks, Saturday in Washington, D.C., and Saturday night or Sunday in New York City.
Models are not in total agreement that the storm will come up the East Coast, however. The European model, as of this afternoon, projected the storm to linger off the Southeast Coast through early next week after striking Florida Friday and coming very close to a second landfall near the Georgia-South Carolina border on Saturday night.
After taking a direct hit from the storm, a natural and human disaster is feared to have transpired in Haiti although details remain sketchy.
The storm’s strongest side washed over the entire island nation which was expecting up to two feet of rain and deadly mudslides. The airport in Les Cayes, near where Matthew’s eye made landfall, reported a 107-mph gust Tuesday morning, but the station went offline soon after. Measurements near Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, were significantly lower, around 60 mph.
“Images posted on social media Tuesday showed raging, muddy floodwaters nearly overflowing river banks, and driving wind and rain that bent palm trees nearly in half,” reported the Post’s William Branigin and David Filipov. “The winds sheared roofs from ramshackle houses, uprooted trees, washed out bridges and clogged rivers and roads with debris.”
The only other hurricanes to make direct landfall in Haiti at such a high intensity were hurricanes Flora in 1963 and Cleo in 1964. Both storms made landfall in the same area at which Matthew came ashore Tuesday morning.
Matthew has spent more time as a Category 4 (or stronger) hurricane than any storm on record during October.