As I wrote about this past weekend, Tropical Storm Matthew would likely form over the southern Caribbean islands and there was uncertainty in the long range forecast of where Matthew might end up in the long range. Well, sure enough this morning Matthew formed just east of the Caribbean as a strong 60 mph tropical storm. Forecast models continue to suggest this storm will intensify over the next several days. Unfortunately no one knows where Matthew will make landfall at this point and it is far too soon to provide specifics to what will occur later next week.
What we do know
In general we know Matthew will continue to move westward across the southern Caribbean Sea for the next several days. As Matthew moves westward it will move over very warm water and as I pointed out on Sunday this water is much above normal temperature.
We know if wind shear decreases it will allow for rapid strengthening of Matthew over this very warm water so in general the likelihood of a major hurricane (Category 3 with winds 111 mph or greater) is likely to happen by this weekend.
We know that the short term forecast of Matthew will allow for a storm’s track of a westward motion over the next four to five days. We also know for the last several days the forecast models have been consistent in suggesting the storm will turn north in the central Caribbean. This means insurance companies from along the Gulf and East coasts should be aware that there is the potential for a hurricane landfall sometime in the middle of next week.
What we don’t know
What we don’t know is the overall end game for Matthew at this time which should unfold later next week. This is because the timing of the northward turn is still unclear. The American Global Forecast System (GFS) weather models suggest the storm will begin to turn on Saturday in the central Caribbean, hitting Haiti on Sunday and then miss Florida but then could impact parts of the East Coast late next week. The European (ECMWF) model is forecasting the sharp turn later on Monday next week therefore allowing for a farther westward track into the Caribbean. In that scenario, it would hit Cuba on Tuesday and have a good chance of impacting Florida or moving into the Gulf of Mexico. These are the two best long range weather models available and they offer different outcomes on what could occur next week. As I have pointed out before there is no certainty in a long range forecast, but general ideas can start to take shape so at this time don’t follow just one forecast, look at all the possible solutions. However, if I were to place a bet on which model might be right next week I would choose the ECMWF model.
Historically, tropical storms in October tend to turn north sharply after they reach the Caribbean. Looking back at a few storms that made a sharp turn to the north, like this storm is expected to do, one of the most recent would be Wilma which was the last major hurricane to hit the U.S. 3993 days go. Wilma made a very sharp turn northward near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula before hitting Florida. Another noteworthy storm was Hurricane Hazel in 1954 which looks very similar to what the models are forecasting for this week’s storm. Hazel formed just before reaching the Caribbean, turned abruptly to the north and passed between Hispaniola and Cuba impacting the east coast of the U.S.