Matthew now a Category 4, still not projected to reach Virginia

Matthew expected to skirt Peninsula, but it's too soon to know for sure

Update: 5:30 p.m. Thursday 

Hurricane Matthew is still barreling down on Florida and expected to reach the coast overnight as a Category 4 storm, according to NOAA

The storm is traveling northwest at 14 mph, and as of 5 p.m., its sustained winds were still around 140 mph with higher gusts.

NOAA said the storm's strength may fluctuate as it approaches Florida.

NOAA's future projections show the hurricane, which will weaken to a tropical storm by Sunday afternoon, wrapping back around to the south and southwest over the course of Monday and Tuesday.

By 2 p.m. Tuesday, projections show the center of the storm just to the northeast of where it is now, heading back toward the Bahamas and Florida's coast.

Update: 11 a.m. Thursday 

Hurricane Matthew's 11 a.m. projection shows the storm making a complete U-turn and heading toward Florida after it spins off the coast of the Carolinas over the weekend. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center's 11 a.m. update on Matthew, which is now a Category 4 hurricane, still predicts the storm will miss Hampton Roads and instead veer off into the Atlantic Ocean and possibly back into Florida.

By the time Matthew would come back to Florida, it would be much weaker, possibly about the strength of a tropical storm at most, according to Lyle Alexander, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Wakefield office.

Alexander added that Matthew would churn the water, pulling colder water to the surface, a phenomenon called upwelling. Colder water creates conditions that would weaken the storm, Alexander said.

He said the rain from Matthew's initial pass could possibly saturate the ground, leading to more flooding issues -- however the severity of the second impact depends on where the hurricane lands.

Alexander said it's unusual for a hurricane to make a loop like this, but it has happened before. He said Hurricane Doria in 1967 hit Florida and turned east and reached Bermuda. There, the hurricane started to head west and ended up hitting Hampton Roads, Alexander said.

Matthew is still projected to make landfall in Florida late Thursday evening or early Friday, according to NOAA. The storm center is about 25 miles northwest of Nassau, Bahamas and 180 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Fla. The storm is tracking northwest and moving about 14 mph, according to NOAA.

As of 11 a.m., its sustained winds topped out around 140 mph, slightly faster than the winds measured earlier this morning when Matthew was a Category 3. 

NOAA has put hurricane warnings in effect from the southern coast of Florida to Altamah Sound, Ga., which is about halfway up Georgia's coastline. From that point to about the midpoint of the South Carolina coastline, a hurricane watch is in effect.

The latest forecasts from the National Weather Service Wakefield office predict between 1.5 and 4 inches of rain falling in southeastern Virginia this weekend. With the recent heavy rain, there is a risk for flooding, according to NWS.

Update: 11 a.m. Wednesday

The latest projection of Hurricane Matthew's path along the East Coast now show Virginia outside the Category 3 storm's path.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center's projection released at 11 a.m. Wednesday shows the storm with a shorter path up the coast and veering towards the Atlantic around South Carolina. The southern tip of North Carolina is the most northern portion of land in Matthew's projected cone. However, NOAA notes that hazardous conditions may happen outside the cone, which shows the storm's path but not its size.

The previous projection released at 8 a.m. Wednesday showed the most southeastern portion of Hampton Roads in Matthew's cone.

The National Weather Service's Wakefield office stated that it expects Matthew’s impact to be less severe than previously predicted due to the shift in trajectory.

Between 4 and 8 inches of rain were initially expected to fall – the anticipated total rainfall is now 2 inches, decreasing the risk for flooding, according to the NWS. Coastal flooding is also expected to have only a minor impact, and wind is not expected to be much of an issue either.

Matthew is currently moving about 10 mph and is about 100 miles south of the Bahamas. The storm is now a Category 3, and wind speeds are topping out at about 120 mph.

NOAA's 48-hour outlook for Matthew stated they expected the storm to remain a Category 3 and possibly even strengthen some as it crosses the Bahamas and approaches Florida. 

It is expected to reach Florida's coast by Thursday evening and Georgia by Saturday morning. The center of the hurricane is projected to be in the ocean, east of South Carolina.

Once it reached South Carolina, Matthew is expected to make a sharp turn eastward into the Atlantic Ocean and be farther out to sea Sunday morning and further east on Monday.

Previous maps projected Matthew would travel up along the coast, through the Mid-Atlantic and into the New England states.

Meteorologists have noted through the week that forecasts regarding Matthew will change as the storm approaches. Jeff Orrock, head meteorologist from the NWS Wakefield office, advised people not to get too wrapped up in one forecast.

Update: 6:15 p.m. Tuesday

The meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service's Wakefield office, Jeff Orrock, said that Hurricane Matthew could be the benchmark event for a generation's idea of bad storms. 

"It has the potential to be a generational storm, it depends upon where it actually tracks," Orrock said. "The potential for a significant disaster is there."

Orrock said the amount of damage depends on where the storm ends up passing by — or over — the region. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday its path had the storm off the coast of Wilmington, N.C. by 2 p.m. Saturday, Orrock said.

From there its current track has it turning northeast and shooting off of North Carolina's coast into the Atlantic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center.

If the storm's path shifts a little east of the current projection, Hampton Roads could miss out on much of the strongest weather, Orrock said. But if it tracks a little west, it could be worse.

For comparison, Orrock said many people who are newer to the area only remember Irene, which came through in 2012, or maybe Isabel in 2003. Orrock said the downed trees and flooding could rival past storms. 

"It could be worse than Irene, or on the order of Isabel in some areas," Orrock said. "It's all track dependent."

He said the models developed to predict such weather events are spitting out different projections because the weather systems in the upper atmosphere, which steer hurricanes like this, are weak. There isn't another strong system that could turn Matthew away from the coast, which is why Orrock said the models produce inconsistent tracks for the storm.

Matthew is strong, he said, and will remain so as it hits South Carolina, where it's supposed to turn northeast, Orrock said. 

"There's a lot of question about how fast this thing is going to turn — is it going to be fast and turn out away from us? Or is it going to be slow and come across (Hampton Roads)."

Those questions won't have confident answers until at least Friday, he said. 

He said it's important for people to not get wrapped up in one forecast so far out. That being said, he added that people should be preparing Wednesday and Thursday — waiting until Friday is pushing it. 

The rain and wind will pick up in Hampton Roads by Friday afternoon ahead of the storm, he said. 

The severe weather team at Jefferson Lab in Newport News is set to meet Wednesday morning on hurricane preparations.

The national lab doesn’t run its high-speed electron beam accelerator during a hurricane. The accelerator is located underground, and in the past the site has experienced flooding in some underground experimental halls.

Since then, the facility installed portable flood gates and most recently installed new flood doors at the truck ramp entrances to the experimental halls, said spokeswoman Deborah Magaldi.

Some ditches have also been re-dug, she said, and drainage ditches cleaned out. They also installed devices that will sound an alarm if water reaches a certain level in the ditches.

At the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, which lies along the York River, staff has already taken precautions, scheduling a test of its emergency generators for Wednesday and topping them off with fuel.

Staff Writer Tamara Dietrich contributed to this report.

Reyes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4692.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette
34°