After a week of heat waves in the Western Cape,
Hurricane Matthew has been moving slowly in the Caribbean this past week, after strengthening rapidly over the weekend. In fact, the storm grew in strength from a mere category 1 hurricane to a ferocious category 5 with wind speeds of 160mph in a period of less than 24 hours. While the storm has weakened somewhat, it is still producing sustained winds of 145mph and could prove devastating to the islands of Haiti and Cuba, the former of which is still recovering from the 7.0M earthquake in 2010.
Matthew is busy making landfall at present over the western coastal area of Haiti. The storm will then continue generally north, north-east according to latest model consensus, where-after it will pass over the eastern coast of Cuba. With the storm still producing category 4 winds, there is a large potential for both high storm surge, heavy rainfall and devastating winds to both the islands over the course of the next 24 hours.
After clearing Cuba the storm is expected to take a more westerly approach as it heads towards the Bahamas. Matthew is expected/forecast to weaken gradually as it moves in this path towards the eastern coast of the United States. Though it should be noted that due to the effects of land interaction being hard to predict, Matthew could easily be weaker or stronger than forecast once it clears the islands. Though at this stage gradual weakening does seem like the most likely situation.
Most of the computer guidance models with the exception of one or two outliers, take Matthew along the east coast, just off Florida – then move the storm towards north Carolina, where it is possible the storm will make landfall. The storm could easily move further west and have a direct landfall on Florida, or move further east than forecast and make it out to sea without impacting North Carolina at all, and so hurricane trackers are carefully watching the situation and tracking what the storm may do.
After catastrophic hurricanes in both 2004 and 2005, the United States has been spared from major hurricane landfalls. In fact, it’s now been a decade since the last recognized major landfall. While Matthew could easily weaken below major status before reaching the east coast of the US (assuming it does landfall), it is possible we may see the major landfall dry spell broken.
Hurricane season in the North Atlantic runs from June through to November, with peak season generally occurring in August – October.