Hurricane Matthew: A Record-Breaking and Devastating Hurricane

Hurricane Matthew was named as it entered the Caribbean on September 28. Matthew has since launched a path of devastation across the Caribbean as well as along portions of the southeastern United States. In the process, this storm achieved several meteorological records. Hurricane Matthew became the first Category 5 hurricane (>= 157 mph winds) in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007 as it tracked through the eastern Caribbean on October 1 (Figure 1). Hurricane Matthew was also the longest-lived hurricane at Category 4-5 strength (>= 130 mph winds) in the Atlantic in October on record (since 1851).

Besides setting several meteorological records for longevity and intensity, it was also very notable for the damage that it generated. Hurricane Matthew is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. Matthew then brushed by the east coast of Florida as a Category 3 hurricane (>= 111 mph winds) before making landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane (>= 74 mph winds).

While the extent of Hurricane Matthew’s impact is still unknown, it brought absolute devastation to Haiti. Over 800 fatalities in Haiti have been reported so far, and it is very likely that this number will continue to increase over the next few weeks. Four fatalities have also been reported in the Dominican Republic, with the United States reporting 19 fatalities to date. Amazingly enough, even though both the Bahamas and Cuba were directly impacted by a Category 4 hurricane, neither country has reported any loss of life. 

Damage estimates are still in their preliminary stages, but the modeling company CoreLogic has estimated that insured damage in the United States will likely be in the $4-$6 billion range. Storm surge inundation and coastal flooding have been especially problematic in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, with nearly 1,000 people having to be rescued in coastal North Carolina due to rising water levels. The damage in coastal areas of these states is likely to be very extensive. While the full extent of Matthew’s path of damage and devastation will take several weeks to fully assess, it will certainly go down in history as one of the most devastating Atlantic hurricanes in the past 50 years.

For those interested, the details of several of Matthew’s records were covered in a blog written for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang a few days ago.

Figure 1: Infrared satellite image of Hurricane Matthew on October 1 when it was at Category 5 strength. (NOAA)

About the Author:
Dr. Phil Klotzbach has received national and international attention for his work in researching weather patterns and forecasting hurricanes. For the past 15 years, Dr. Klotzbach has co-authored Colorado State University's Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts with his esteemed colleague the late Dr. William Gray.