Hurricane Matthew began to make come ashore along the eastern coast of Florida late Thursday night as residents hunkered down or sought refuge from the high winds, heavy rains, and an expected storm surge of ocean water.
The intense storm is expected to be the most powerful storm to hit the state in more than a decade, and given its current track could prove the most expensive in history. Matthew already left a trail of damage in the Bahamas and devastated Haiti where latest reports indicate that close to 300 people, and possibly more, have been killed.
In an update posted at 11:00pm ET, the National Hurricane Center said the eye of an "extremely dangerous" Hurricane Matthew was moving "away from The Bahamas and toward the east coast of Florida." Meanwhile, current radar footage showed the western edge of the Category 4 storm lashing the south-eastern edge of Florida, north of Miami.
Offering brief notes on the latest expectations for the Matthew, Weather.com provided the following estimates:
- Matthew may be a Category 4 or 5 hurricane before striking the Florida coast starting Thursday night.
- This will be the strongest Florida east coast strike since Hurricane Andrew.
- Matthew will bring destructive hurricane conditions to eastern Florida, the Georgia coast and coastal South Carolina.
- "Sandy-like" storm surge for parts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and flooding rain are also likely.
- Matthew will then meander off the Southeast coast well into next week.
And the Weather Channel's live stream was also tracking developments:
Before making its imminent landfall on Florida, Hurricane Matthew on Thursday strengthened once again to a Category 4 storm, prompting widespread evacuations and fears over its devastating potential.
Since pummeling the Caribbean with sustained winds over 100 miles per hour, Matthew has "steadily intensified" and now threatens the eastern coast of the United States with estimated winds up to 135-140 mph, according to Wunderground meteorologist Jeff Masters.
Updates and images of the devastating storm are being shared on social media under the hashtag #Matthew.
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The storm has already shattered numerous records and, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), it is "the strongest hurricane to affect this area in decades."
In a dire report issued early Thursday, NWS warned:
Extremely dangerous, life-threatening weather conditions are forecast in the next 24 hours. The center of Hurricane Matthew containing the strongest wind gusts, storm surge and heavy rain squalls will move along or over portions of the east central Florida coastline very early Friday morning and into the afternoon. Widespread extensive to devastating wind impacts will be felt. Airborne debris lofted by extreme winds will be capable of breaching structures, unprotected windows and vehicles. Effects such as these ranging from the coast to well inland have not been experienced in central Florida in decades.
Further, the report noted that "the potential for life threatening storm surge flooding is high," with surges up to seven feet expected along the central Atlantic coast barrier islands, as well as "downwind piling and surging of water" along the intercoastal waterway.
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) October 6, 2016
Matthew's death toll has already reached 113 people, with Haiti being the hardest hit so far. In the U.S., the National Guard has been activated and authorities have urged more than two million people in coastal communities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina to evacuate. Florida Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday ordered mandatory evacuations for those living on Brevard County's barrier islands.
The storm's strength and durability is being attributed to unprecedented climate conditions, due to the impacts of global warming.
"This powerful hurricane has consistently fed on sea surface temperatures in the range of 29 to 30 degrees Celsius (84 to 86 Fahrenheit)," notes environmental and social justice blogger Robert Fanney. "These waters are 1-3 degrees Celsius above 20th Century averages and are at or near record hot levels. Furthermore, added heat at the ocean surface has led to greater evaporation which has contributed to 75 percent relative humidity readings at the middle levels of the atmosphere."
These conditions have produced a storm that has blown away records. On Wednesday, the Washington Post ticked off the "milestones that Matthew has achieved so far," writing:
- Hurricane Matthew is the longest-lived Category 4-5 hurricane in the eastern Caribbean on record.
- The storm was a Category 4-5 hurricane for 102 hours, which is the longest that a hurricane has maintained such a strength on record during October in the Atlantic basin.
- Matthew has been a major hurricane (Category 3-5) for more than five days, the longest-lived major hurricane since Hurricane Ivan (2004).
When the hurricane briefly reached Category 5 classification this weekend, it became the first Atlantic-basin storm of that strength since Hurricane Felix in 2007.