Hurricane Matthew Batters Jamaica and Haiti, Could Threaten Florida Later This Week

Update 5:35 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. advisory shows has Hurricane Matthew shifting dramatically to the west — right toward the Sunshine State.

Hurricane Matthew is a monster, packing sustained 130 mph winds as of 5 a.m. today as its howling center inches north toward Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba. Those islands are bracing for catastrophe, with storm surges up to 15 feet and 40-inch deluges of rain possible.

The latest forecasts call for the Category 4 behemoth to just miss Florida later this week as it swerves up the East Coast. But four or five days out, the storm's track is still far too close for comfort for Florida. 

"For now, Matthew’s track beyond the Bahamas is still uncertain enough that coastal residents from Florida to Canada should be on the alert for possible impacts in a few days, especially given this hurricane’s strength and breadth," writes Bob Henson at the Weather Underground.

Today, though, all eyes are on Jamaica and Haiti, which are already feeling the effects of the huge 'cane. Rain and battering surf were whipping both coastlines this morning as the storm's powerful center moved north at just 6 mph.

As the storm motors over warm water, it's possible Matthew's eye wall will grow even stronger before it passes over the two islands later tonight.

That's a terrifying prospect, especially for Haiti, where deforested mountain ranges are particularly prone to devastating landslides and flooding.

"We are worried about the slow pace of Hurricane Matthew, which will expose Haiti to much more rain, and the country is particularly vulnerable to flooding," Ronald Semelfort, director of Haiti's national meteorology center, tells Reuters this morning

Matthew could also pull off the unlikely feat of threading the needle between Jamaica, Haiti, and eastern Cuba, which would mean the mountainous islands won't have much of a chance to break up and weaken the storm. That would be bad news for the Bahamas, which face a direct hit later this week. 

As for Florida, if Matthew's track stays true, we probably won't face anything worse than strong rip currents, big surf, and maybe a rainy end to the week as the hurricane slides by to the east. 

But five-day forecasting is still an inexact science, and plenty of models still show Matthew veering farther to the west: 

In other words, it never hurts to check the water and rum supplies before a panicked raid on Publix breaks out later this week. 
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink