12:15 PM | ***Hurricane Matthew to slam the Southeast US and then take an unusual loop keeping it away from the Mid-Atlantic…it could actually hit the Bahamas/Florida a second time***
Major Hurricane Matthew continues to be a serious threat for the region from Florida to North Carolina. The storm is currently headed northwest through the Bahama Island chain and towards the east-central coastal region of Florida. It could make landfall there by early Friday and has a shot at ending the on-going streak in the US without a major hurricane (i.e., category 3, 4 or 5). That unprecedented streak (actually 4000 days as of tomorrow) without a major hurricane strike in the US has persevered since October 2005 at which time Wilma came ashore in southwestern Florida. Hurricane Matthew is the 14th Atlantic hurricane since 1950 to be a major hurricane for at least 120 consecutive hours.
After its arrival in east-central Florida - perhaps even as a category 4 (major) hurricane - Hurricane Matthew is likely to slide parallel to the coastline of northeast Florida and Georgia before beginning to turn more sharply to the northeast near the South Carolina/North Carolina border region. This sharp right turn will likely be the beginning of a loop to be made by Matthew which will quite likely prevent it from moving close to the Mid-Atlantic region. In fact, this expected loop by Matthew could actually result in a second hit to hit the Bahamas/Florida region sometime next week - albeit in a weakened state. While somewhat unusual, it is not unprecedented for Atlantic Basin tropical systems to move in a looping fashion at some point during their lifetime; especially, during the latter stages of the tropical season when weather systems can slow down due to atmospheric blocking patterns.
Latest computer forecast models tend to agree on an eventual looping pattern for Matthew which will become influenced by a deep upper-level trough moving east from the middle of the country. Another factor in the ultimate track of Matthew will be Tropical Storm Nicole which currently sits out over the central Atlantic. These two systems could "dance around" each other for a number of days and we may just end up dealing with Matthew near the Southeast US coastline later next week. The 12Z GFS forecast maps feature an arrival of Hurricane Matthew near or at the east-central coast of Florida early tomorrow (map above) and then there might be a return visit around Monday night (map below) after a complete loop over the western Atlantic Ocean. The low pressure system seen to the east of Matthew on both forecast maps is Tropical Storm Nicole. While the center of Matthew could stay south of the North Carolina coastline, heavy rain and strong winds could actually extend northward well into North Carolina and perhaps even into southeastern Virginia.
The 11AM observations of Matthew indicate some strengthening has occurred as its center moves out over the warm waters of the southwestern Atlantic and its circulation field moves away from any influence by the land mass of Cuba. It is still classified as a major hurricane (category 3) at this time with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. The current movement is to the northwest at 12 mph and the eye is becoming noticeably better organized on satellite imagery (top). The environment between the Bahamas and Florida is pretty favorable for Matthew and additional strengthening can take place during the next 48 hours - perhaps even into category 4 status.
Looking back in history for possible analogs cases to Matthew's expected loop, there was Hurricane Gordon of November 1994 which was a long-lived and catastrophic late-season hurricane. The twelfth and final tropical cyclone of that season, Gordon formed in the southwestern Caribbean on November 8th and it ended up with quite an unusual track (above) featuring lots of twists and turns before finally dissipating over the Southeast US. In addition, two other example tropical systems featuring loops in their tracks were Ester in 1961 (left, below) and Ivan in 2004 (right, below).
Meteorologist Paul Dorian