The Birth of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew. Where did this monster storm start? How did it grow so big?

Matthew started as a tropical wave, an elongated low pressure system, off the west coast of Africa. The wave drifted west into the Atlantic Ocean, passing south of the Cape Verde Islands 350 miles (570km) from Africa. Thunderstorm activity increased as it moved across the Atlantic into the warm 85° waters of the Caribbean.

As the system approached the Lesser Antilles, a volcanic arc of islands that runs from the Virgin Islands to Grenada, and marks the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, tropical storm force winds became associated with the thunderstorm activity, although the wind circulation had not yet organized into a tropical storm.

On September 28, the National Hurricane Center confirmed that the storm circulation had closed, and named it Tropical Storm Matthew with wind speeds of 58 mph (93km/h). On September 29, as the storm moved northwest, wind speeds increased to 75 mph (125km/h) and by September 30 the circulation center of the storm closed up into an eye.

At that point, the storm quickly intensified, doubling the wind speed from 80 mph (130km/h) to 160mph (260km/h), a Category 5 hurricane.

Matthew’s intensity dropped to a Category 4 as it approached Haiti. It struck Haiti straight on with 145 mph (240km/h) wind, torrential rain, and storm surge flooding. Reports indicate loss of life exceeding 1,000, and devastating loss of homes, crops, roads, and infrastructure.

After blowing through the Bahamas with minimal damage, the storm intensity dropped to a Category 3, then a 2, and by the time it turned north 30 miles off the coast of Florida, it was down to a Category 1, but the outer bands packed heavy rain and 75 mph (125km/h) winds that caused extensive damage, and flooded St. Augustine and Jacksonville. A million people in Florida suffered power outages.

Matthew pounded the Georgia coast, especially the Savannah area, and then made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 105mph (240km/h), flooding downtown Charleston with extreme rain and a 6 ft. (2m) storm surge.  Close to a half million there lost power. Hurricane Matthew was the first hurricane to make landfall on US soil since Hurricane Ike in 2008.

The storm moved north into North Carolina with heavy rain: 16 inches (41cm) in Tar Heel and 15 inches in Goldsboro, causing massive flooding. Rivers are expected to overtop their banks by midweek. So far, 900 people have been rescued from rooftops and trees in North Carolina. 800,000 lost power. In Virginia, heavy rain caused flooding in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Hampton Roads.

The death toll for the storm in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas stands at 26. Property losses are expected to be in the billions.

As this is being written, Hurricane Matthew has headed out to sea and has been downgraded to a tropical storm with sustained winds of 75 mph (125km/h).The National Hurricane Center predicts Matthew will next make a U-turn onto a southwestern track toward the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Gordon About Gordon

In writing his novel TSUNAMI, Gordon Gumpertz did extensive research on plate tectonics and seafloor geology to give this work of fiction an authentic atmosphere.

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