From The New York Post
Hurricane Matthew has begun hammering Florida’s east coast after delivering a devastating wallop to the Bahamas and Haiti.
While the behemoth was downgraded to a Category 3 storm at 2 a.m. Friday, it continued to unleash dangerous, 120 mph winds and heavy rain as it crept closer and closer to the Sunshine State.
According to the National Hurricane Center’s latest models and track forecast, Matthew is expected to hug the Atlantic coast for quite some time — with a 7 to 11-foot storm surge forecast along the central and northern Florida coastline.
The system had been labeled a Category 4 before tapering off just barely Thursday night — with sustained winds dropping from 140mph to 130mph mere hours before it was expected to make landfall near Melbourne, FL.
As of 4 a.m. EDT Friday, the hurricane’s western eyewall was approaching Cape Canaveral, according to the National Hurricane Center. But even though the eye was still off-shore, Florida was already seeing strong winds. The Hurricane Center said sustained winds of 46 mph and a gust of 70 mph were reported in Melbourne early Friday.
While it was pummeling Grand Bahama Island at around 8 p.m, the National Hurricane Center reported that Matthew was already spreading Tropical Storm conditions — including strong winds up to 70 mph — in parts of Florida. It had moved away from the region and even closer towards Florida by 12 a.m.
More than 100,000 people were without power early Friday morning, according to Florida Power & Light.
Defiant Florida residents hunkered down in their homes and RVs despite a mandatory evacuation order throughout the day.
The city’s office of the National Weather Service warned of “devastating to catastrophic” impacts on Thursday night.
“Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months,” the agency said in a statement.
Matthew — the most powerful storm to threaten the US Atlantic coast in more than a decade — had been forecast to hit Florida’s mainland at full force as early as midnight, though it was still unclear whether it would make landfall as of 12:30 a.m.
Experts said that if it was to come ashore anywhere else besides Melbourne, it would be somewhere in Palm Beach County or up towards Cape Canaveral, which is extremely rare. If this happens, it would be the first Hurricane to hit the east coast of Florida, north of Miami, since 1850.
“If Matthew does make landfall along the Florida coast, this would be the most likely spot for it,” Jeff Masters, a veteran hurricane expert, wrote on his Weather Underground website.”Billions of dollars of facilities and equipment are at risk at Kennedy Space Center and nearby bases, which have never before experienced a major hurricane.”
Officials in Haiti reported that the storm had taken at least 339 lives after making landfall in the country on Tuesday. Deaths were also reported in the Dominican Republic, Colombia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Forecasters expect Matthew, the first major hurricane threatening a direct hit on the United States in more than 10 years, to hug the coast of Florida early Friday as it continues to make its way up the Atlantic seaboard.
While many assume that the storm would be more powerful if it made landfall, experts say things could get even more hairy if it decides to stay put.
By not slamming into the coast, Matthew would allow itself to draw energy from the warmer ocean waters — ultimately fueling it’s destructive path.
“Once they make landfall, they will dissipate, but in the case of Matthew, it is going to be half over the ocean and continue to gain energy and hold together for much longer,” said Isaac Hankes, a weather research analyst at Lanworth Inc, a company owned by Thomson Reuters Corp.
Experts said that if Matthew doesn’t make landfall, it could become one of the most costliest storms in US history.
“If it can live along the coast for a day and a half, it is going to be doing damage in terms of cost,” said David Nolan, professor and chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami. “It might be remembered for its impact on the insurance industry more than anything else.”
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