Hurricane Matthew could make history on NC coast

Hurricane Matthew could make history on NC coast

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Hurricane Matthew made landfall early Tuesday morning in western Haiti, near the town of Les Anglais.  With sustained winds of 145 mph, Matthew was (and still is) a category 4 storm at landfall, the first "cat 4" to make landfall on Haiti since 1964.

Looking ahead, Matthew will continue to drift north, crossing eastern Cuba late in the day before pushing up into the Bahamas midweek.  This would be the first major hurricane landfall in Cuba since Sandy did so four years ago this month.

Rolling over mountainous terrain Tuesday may weaken Matthew a little – this may be wishful thinking – as the official forecast calls for at least a category 3 – major - hurricane Wednesday over the Bahamas.  That's still a storm with winds greater than 110 mph.  Further north, Matthew is still expected to be a strong 100+ mph hurricane off the FL / GA / SC coast late in the week.

So, the intensity forecast has not changed much in the past 24 hours. What has changed is the track forecast.

Overnight model guidance continued to suggest a more westward track, with many members of the suite actually bringing the storm in to either South Carolina or North Carolinas late in the week or early in the weekend.

Choosing not to ignore the shift in guidance, the National Hurricane Center also adjusted their official track, now bringing Matthew up along the SC coast Friday night and into NC near Cape Fear / Wilmington early Saturday afternoon as a category 2 hurricane with winds up to 105 mph.  On that track – about 65 miles west of Monday night's track – a second landfall would be anticipated just west of Cape Lookout late Saturday.

It's important to note there is a big difference between a hurricane plowing directly into land at a solid speed, and a storm that moves parallel the shore. A storm that comes in with velocity and makes a firm landfall can add to wind damage in spots and also bring in greater storm surge. Fortunately, it does not appear that is going to be the case. But on the flip side, a storm like Matthew moving along the coast could impact many more communities up and down the Carolina coast.

Again, this is a long-range forecast and much will change over time, it always does.  It's worth noting the average error rate of 175 miles at day 4 and 235 miles at day 5, so a lot of wiggle room is required at this point.

Already a historical storm, if Matthew's eye does cross the Carolina coastline, it will receive yet another accolade. A hurricane has not made landfall north of Florida during the month of October since Hazel struck south of Wilmington in Brunswick County in October 1954.

Sandy become a post-tropical storm just before landfall in New Jersey, so there's an asterisk on that one. But the point is that conditions are rarely favorable for a hurricane to strike the East Coast this deep into autumn. The jet stream is often more active, producing shear and pushing storms out to sea. And on top of that the water is cool and getting cooler. Time will tell if Matthew is indeed historical again.

The good news is that Matthew will not race inland like Hazel did, slamming Raleigh and everywhere north of there all the way into Canada. At this point, that's not a likely path, as any landfall at this juncture looks to be (geographically) brief before heading back over the Atlantic north of the Outer Banks.  Even so, this could be a devastating storm for eastern North Carolina, an area hard hit already by tropical rains several times this season.

Back across the WBTV viewing area, it remains to be seen just how much of an impact there might be from a potential Matthew landfall on our coast.  Matthew is not a particularly large storm, as the hurricane force winds only extend out 40 miles from the center.  Tropical storm force winds, however, extend out 185 miles from the center.

Quite often land-falling hurricanes on our coast struggle to bring a lot of rain to the western part of the state, but there could indeed be issues felt near Charlotte late Friday through Saturday.  The most likely scenario for the western Carolinas, based upon the latest information, is that any heavy rainfall concerns would be limited to the I-77 corridor (the usual caveat of "well-organized tropical cyclones are characterized by extremely tight gradients in rainfall on their western periphery" applies here).

The larger issue for our area could prove to be wind, as was the case with Tropical Storm Hermine at the start of Labor Day weekend, but this will obviously depend upon the strength of the cyclone as it approaches the coast.

Stay tuned, a lot of changes are likely to unfold over the next few days!

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