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Hurricane Matthew Is Born in Caribbean; Uncertainty Reigns in Long-Term Outlook

By: Bob Henson 10:06 PM GMT on September 29, 2016

The 13th named storm of the 2016 Atlantic season became Hurricane Matthew at 2:00 pm EDT Thursday. After detecting a small area of hurricane-force winds earlier in the day, an Air Force Hurricane Hunter flight found more consistent evidence of surface winds up to the 75-mph hurricane threshold, thus prompting the upgrade. This is the first Matthew to reach hurricane strength since the name was introduced in 2004, and it’s also the fifth hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic season. Most of this year’s storms have been on the weak side, together producing only about 70% of the usual amount of accumulated cyclone energy for this point in the season. Matthew could boost that percentage considerably over the next week or more.


Figure 1. Satellite image for Matthew as of 5:07 pm EDT Thursday, September 26, 2016.

Fighting and surviving headwinds
Tropical cyclones often weaken or fail to develop in the “hurricane graveyard” of the eastern Caribbean Sea. Trade winds typically accelerate through the region in a way that leads to sinking air and enhanced vertical wind shear. (See details in this 2010 paper from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society). Indeed, Matthew has been fighting vertical wind shear of close to 20 knots that was predicted by some but not all models. Early Thursday, Matthew’s low-level center decoupled from its central convection (showers and thunderstorms) and was clearly visible on satellite. A new batch of convection erupted by midday Thursday atop the low-level center, and the old convection has morphed into a banding feature feeding into Matthew. These elements should help sustain and nourish Matthew’s growth. At the same time, Matthew is plowing into fairly dry air at middle levels of the atmosphere, as revealed in visible satellite imagery that shows low-level outflow features to the west of the center. Matthew’s sustained winds remained at 75 mph in the 5 pm EDT update from the National Hurricane Center. Radiometer observations from the midday Hurricane Hunter flight detected peak surface winds of up to 67 knots (77 mph) around 17Z (1:00 pm EDT).

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for the southeast Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba as Matthew passes to the north. In addition, a rare Tropical Storm Watch is now in effect for the coast of Colombia, extending from the Venezuala border west to Riohacha. Matthew is not expected to make landfall in South America, but its large circulation could bring gales and heavy rains near the coast.


Figure 2. Vertical wind shear across the Caribbean as of 18Z (2:00 pm EDT) Thursday, September 29, 2016. Higher shear (unfavorable for tropical cyclones) is shown in red. Matthew has reached and maintained hurricane strength despite wind shear of around 20 knots. The shear may continue for another couple of days as Matthew enters the central Caribbean, but then is predicted to lessen. Image credit: CIMSS/University of Wisconsin/SSEC.


Figure 3. MODIS satellite image of Matthew taken at 11:30 am EDT September 29, 2016. Image credit: NASA.

Short-term forecast for Matthew
The outlook for Matthew is fairly straightforward over the next couple of days. Late Wednesday, Matthew was moving due west at 17 mph, and a very gradual, well-predicted bend to a track just south of due west appears to be in progress. Along the way, conditions will favor at least some strengthening, as the atmosphere around Matthew moistens (relative humidity will rise from around 55-60% Wednesday to around 65% by Friday) and wind shear relaxes to around 10 knots by Saturday. There is fairly strong model agreement that Matthew will be positioned in the central Caribbean north of Colombia and south of Hispaniola by Saturday, perhaps as a Category 2 hurricane.

The outlook grows much more complex from this weekend onward. Models continue to agree that an upper low cut off from the jet stream over the eastern U.S. will extend into the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend, helping to urge Matthew northward. One big question is how far west Matthew will get before that sharp right-hand turn occurs. The longitude of the turn will help determine the westward extent of Matthew’s subsequent track, which in turn will shape whether Matthew threatens Cuba, Jamaica, and/or Hispaniola by early next week. The NOAA Gulfstream-IV aircraft that samples the environment around hurricanes is again in service after a multiweek outage, and data from the G-IV flights will be incorporated in model runs starting at 00Z Friday, which should help nail down Matthew’s track.

Conditions may turn even more favorable for Matthew to intensify from around Saturday to Tuesday as it approaches the Greater Antilles. The official NHC outlook brings Matthew to the high end of Category 2 strength by Monday, when it is forecasted to be approaching eastern Cuba. There is only limited skill in predicting hurricane intensity five days out, and we cannot rule out the possibility that Matthew will intensify even more, or will fail to intensify very much. Rapid intensification is a distinct possibility, given the very large heat content in the northern Caribbean waters. Interests in the Greater Antilles, especially from eastern Cuba to the Dominican Republic, should pay especially close attention to Matthew’s progress. Matthew is a large storm and could lead to torrential rains and life-threatening floods and mudslides near its path in the Greater Antilles.


Figure 4. National Hurricane Center five-day outlook for Matthew as of 5 pm EDT Thursday, September 29, 2016.

Long-range forecast for Matthew
It appears increasingly likely that Matthew will move north from the Caribbean into The Bahamas and avoid the Gulf of Mexico, although residents along the Gulf Coast would be prudent to keep an eye on it. On Wednesday and Wednesday night, the European model included a minority of ensemble members that took Matthew into the Gulf later next week. In its 12Z Thursday run, the European ensemble became somewhat more unified around the idea that Matthew will move north into The Bahamas, then perhaps angle northwest from that point. The 12Z Thursday operational run of the UKMET model tracked along the same general lines as the Euro ensemble. Meanwhile, the GFS model and its ensemble members have been resolute for more than a day in taking Matthew through The Bahamas early next week on a steady northward track, with uncertainty growing as it approaches the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coast.

Beyond The Bahamas, the GFS and European solutions leave open the possibility that Matthew could approach the U.S. East Coast anywhere from Florida to Maine, but the timing and location of that track remain very uncertain. Steering currents will hinge on the evolution of this weekend’s cut-off low in the eastern U.S. and on a new upper-level low that will be sweeping into the western U.S. It is far too soon to know exactly how these features will evolve. Next week’s upper trough could arrive in time to steer Matthew out to sea late next week, as suggested by the 12Z Thursday runs of the GFS and ECMWF operational models. However, any slowdown in that trough’s arrival, or any change in its configuration, could lead to a vastly different solution for Matthew—including a track angling inland. It is quite rare for such a trough to be perfectly predicted a week in advance.

The bottom line: Matthew will pose a significant threat to the Greater Antilles in the 3-to-5-day time frame, and a potential threat to the U.S. East Coast in the 6-to-10-day time frame. Future model runs will allow us to be more specific about the areas that will be most at risk and when that might be. As always, the five-day outlooks from the National Hurricane Center and the associated local bulletins are the place to turn for official guidance.

Jeff Masters will be back with our next update on Matthew by late Friday morning.

Bob Henson


Figure 5. Track forecasts from (left) the five European model ensemble members that have performed best with Matthew thus far [gray lines], effective 12Z Thursday, September 29, 2016; and (right) the full 20-member GFS ensemble, effective 18Z Thursday.

Hurricane

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Still moving WSW as of 11am from NHC
Quoting 1497. FOREX:

Actually, Matthew is following exactly the way the most reliable models predicted.It made the wsw move,now it is moving West again and looks ready to make its wnw movement sometime tomorrow.
11:00 AM EDT Fri Sep 30
Location: 13.7N 70.8W
Moving: WSW at 12 mph
Min pressure: 968 mb
Max sustained: 115 mph

It is important to remind users that average NHC track forecast
errors are around 175 miles at day 4 and 230 miles at day 5.
Therefore, it is too soon to rule out possible hurricane impacts
from Matthew in Florida.
Quoting 1492. MahFL:



The NHC won't add mph's unless they have positive evidence those extra mph's exist. They will round down.
Think there is any weight to the theory "hey ... people will take this more seriously now that its a MAJOR hurricane." Eventhough the winds are basically the same now as they were 6 hours ago. Maybe if it were ots it would still be an 80 or 90mph cat 1
1504. K8eCane
Quoting 1466. Aeropsia:



What was the storm that was forecast to turn and then after it didn't, a meteorologist on air said "we have a problem" or something like that?


Ha! Cant believe someone else remembers that too. That was George Elliot, who had come to us from TWC. He was talking about Bonnie. And TWC had just said this would stay well off the coast. Within 30 mins, he came on the air and looked at the camera and said " people, we've got a problem". It was Bonnie 1998.
Yes, we have been burned. Thats why its such a nail biter.
Prayers for islands to our south. I see Matthew is now 115 mph.
Quoting 1500. weathermanwannabe:

Matthew just defied the odds again for a storm in the Eastern Caribbean this time of the year and under some unfavorable shear odds...................................One for the books. Does not look good for those in the short-term path downstream in the Antilles. Very dangerous and large storm to contend with.

AND the first major in the Caribbean in over 10 years now:






Sandy was briefly a major in the Caribbean.
1506. MIKEYZ
000
WTNT34 KNHC 301449
TCPAT4

BULLETIN
HURRICANE MATTHEW ADVISORY NUMBER 10
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL142016
1100 AM EDT FRI SEP 30 2016

...MATTHEW STRENGTHENS TO A MAJOR HURRICANE WHILE MOVING WEST-
SOUTHWESTWARD OVER THE CARIBBEAN SEA...


SUMMARY OF 1100 AM EDT...1500 UTC...INFORMATION
-----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...13.7N 70.8W
ABOUT 105 MI...170 KM NE OF PUNTA GALLINAS COLOMBIA
ABOUT 495 MI...800 KM SE OF KINGSTON JAMAICA
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...115 MPH...185 KM/H
PRESENT MOVEMENT...WSW OR 255 DEGREES AT 12 MPH...19 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...968 MB...28.59 INCHES


WATCHES AND WARNINGS
--------------------
CHANGES WITH THIS ADVISORY:

The government of Colombia has changed the Tropical Storm Watch
that was in effect from the Colombia/Venezuela border to Riohacha
to a Tropical Storm Warning.

The government of Aruba has discontinued the Tropical Storm Watch
for Aruba.

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for...
* Colombia/Venezuela border to Riohacha

A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are
expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case in the
next 12 to 24 hours.

Interests elsewhere along the coasts of Venezuela and Colombia
should monitor the progress of Matthew. Interests in Jamaica,
Hispaniola, and eastern Cuba should also monitor the progress of
Matthew. A hurricane watch may be required for Jamaica later today.

For storm information specific to your area, please monitor products
issued by your national meteorological service.


DISCUSSION AND 48-HOUR OUTLOOK
------------------------------
At 1100 AM EDT (1500 UTC), the center of Hurricane Matthew was
located near latitude 13.7 North, longitude 70.8 West. Matthew is
moving toward the west-southwest near 12 mph (19 km/h). A westward
motion at a slower forward speed is expected later today and
tonight. A turn toward the west-northwest is forecast by Saturday
night, followed by a turn toward the northwest by early Sunday. On
the forecast track, the center of Matthew will pass north of the
Guajira Peninsula later today and tonight and remain over the
central Caribbean Sea through early Sunday.

Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate
that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 115 mph (185
km/h) with higher gusts. Matthew is a category 3 hurricane on the
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Little change in strength is
forecast during the next 48 hours.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the
center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles
(315 km).

The latest minimum central pressure based on data from the aircraft
is 968 mb (28.59 inches).


HAZARDS AFFECTING LAND
----------------------
WIND: Tropical storm conditions are expected in portions of the
warning area in Colombia later later today and tonight.

RAINFALL: Rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches with isolated higher
amounts are expected over Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao through
Saturday. Rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches with isolated higher
amounts are expected along the coast of Colombia from the Venezuelan
border to Riohacha. Rainfall totals of 1 to 2 inches with isolated
higher amounts are expected along the coast of Venezuela from Coro
to the Colombian border.

SURF: Swells generated by Matthew are expected to affect portions
of the coasts of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao,
Venezuela, and Colombia during the next few days. These swells are
likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
Please consult products from your local weather office.


NEXT ADVISORY
-------------
Next intermediate advisory at 200 PM EDT.
Next complete advisory at 500 PM EDT.

$$
Forecaster Brennan
Major Hurricane Matthew Wow
Quoting 1460. ElConando:

Greetings from the past!


Greetings from the future
Quoting 1492. MahFL:



The NHC won't add mph's unless they have positive evidence those extra mph's exist. They will round down.


The problem with that is if they round down you'd get a Cat-2 (110 mph). 111-129 mph is the range for a 3.
Quoting 1505. Articuno:



Sandy was briefly a major in the Caribbean.


Forgot that fact when we focus so much on the impacts on the US as a TS......................Thanks.
2016's second Major
1512. hmroe
Quoting 1498. Patrap:





🎑🌎


Why does this from 3 hours ago keep being reposted?
1513. Grothar
Very strong systems have been known to create a high above them, which can keep them on a westward motion. Even weak system can influence their own environment, which it seems Matthew has done for many days. They often isolate themselves from dry air intrusion and even, to a certain degree, from strong shear. Whether or not this is the case, it will be interesting to see how the interplay of the deep digging trough and Atlantic high interact.

There has been a slight retrograde motion of the low over the central US.



This is going to be a big ACE producer I say 25-35 points.
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
Quoting 1500. weathermanwannabe:

Matthew just defied the odds again for a storm in the Eastern Caribbean this time of the year and under some unfavorable shear odds...................................One for the books. Does not look good for those in the short-term path downstream in the Antilles. Very dangerous and large storm to contend with.

AND the first major in the Caribbean in over 10 years now:






Hurricane Dean (2007), Felix (2007), Gustav (2008), Omar (2008), Paloma (2008), & Sandy (2012) were all major hurricanes in the Caribbean within the last 10 years.
Quoting 1513. Grothar:

Very strong systems have been known to create a high above them, which can keep them on a westward motion. Even weak system can influence their own environment, which it seems Matthew has done for many days. They often isolate themselves from dry air intrusion and even, to a certain degree, from strong shear. Whether or not this is the case, it will be interesting to see how the interplay of the deep digging trough and Atlantic high interact.

There has been a slight retrograde motion of the low over the central US.






So a slightly weaker trough and a cat 3 hurricane can continue Matthew's westward motion then?
Quoting 1456. CCSoFLA79:

My heart aches for Jamaica. This is going to be a big one for them if the track continues west. Just so sad


Yes I feel for them and sure hope they stay safe as it looks as though they may take one for the team unfortunately.
As of the current track (and the first stops), Jamaica could receive an eyewall hit on the tip of the East Coast, Haiti will be on the dirty side, and the mountains of Western Cuba (also subject to a direct hit) could slow it down a bit before reaching the Southern Bahamas and possible intensifying again.

The good news, I hope, is that there are a few days for the authorities in Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti to warn/prepare their residents in the vulnerable areas; Cuba has excellent Mets and a warning system in place but I cannot speak as to Haiti or Jamaica.

Anyone on here know if they actually monitor these storms and/or warn coastal residents?
Quoting 1498. Patrap:





🎑🌎


Something to watch is the approach to Jam and Cuba. Specifically the path between the BAD and GFTI/GFDI. That would be the shortest path over Cuba and least mountainous. A little to the right are the highest peaks and longest path. Will make a big difference in how Matthew emerges into the Bahamas.
Eye spy?

"Therefore, it is too soon to rule out possible hurricane impacts
from Matthew in Florida."

Perfect wording. Residents need to stay alert.
Interesting that the NHC are holding on tightly to the intensity models - despite all the global models showing Matthew strengthening (Euro/UKMET/GFS).
1524. hmroe
Quoting 1465. SFLWeatherman:

Yesterday 12Z to 0Z and 6Z

12Z

0Z

12Z

6Z


Almost all have pulled it OTS. Yay!!
Worst case scenario is this gets to 77-78 West, that to me would mean a likely U.S. impact but regardless of the turn currently forecasted it is still on the table
Good afternoon from South Fla..
I've been in South Fla since '59 and I remember over the years some storms once they reached "major" strength seemed to have a mind of their own due to the size of the weather system.. Certainly hope in this case it doesnt hold true...

http://ruc.noaa.gov/tracks/

Using the above I ran the GFDL.. as I have been over the past few days.. Seems to be pushing left.. hope its just an anomaly as all the other models (for the most part) demonstrate otherwise...

Be well!
1527. 19N81W
trades are flying here today.....hazy/dusty and stable......
1528. 19N81W
who do you believe?
Hello, Testtttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttjing 1,2, Testtttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttting 1,2.
1530. 19N81W
is the blog having issues?
Quoting 1530. 19N81W:

is the blog having issues?


New blog... A while back... See post #1515... Just went to close the old tab and notice a lot of folks still here.
1532. WXHAMVA
Working here but I noticed a 1-hour lapse in posts
1533. miamivu
John Moralis, of NBC 6 Florida, is a wishcaster's bummer; he is the antithesis of the castrophobic. He just sounded a very loud alarm for Florida to pay close attention to Matthew....citing how close the GFS model run from this afternoon was to our coast...and how far away the storm currently is....he even said "you know me, I'm not an alarmist...." Point well made; thanks Mr. Moralis.