Hurricane Matthew still looks like a serious threat to the east coast of Florida, but when can we expect to feel its effects? For clues, watch the trend of the National Hurricane Center's forecast cones. Since 5 p.m. yesterday, the trend has remained fairly steady, and it places much of southeast Florida and east-central Florida in the three-day forecast cone.
Please remember that this cone represents only the expected path of Matthew's core (the so-called "eye" of the storm). As is the case with every hurricane, this storm is much more than just its center. Hurricane-force winds currently extend 40 miles from the center; tropical-storm force winds extend up to 185 miles from the center. Rain squalls stretch much farther.
Matthew is a dangerous Category 4 storm, and it is predicted to remain a major Category 3 storm as its center approaches Florida on Thursday and moves northwestward along or parallel to the coast. This is something of a worst-case scenario — a major hurricane that moves right along or close to Florida's entire east coast.
Some modest left/right adjustments of Hurricane Matthew’s forecast cone can be expected with each National Hurricane Center advisory. (Substantive NHC advisory updates are issued at 5 a.m., 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. each day, with generally minor updates issued at 8 a.m., 2 p.m., 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. each day). That said, the 11 a.m./2 p.m. forecast cones have been nudged slightly to the right, edging away from Florida’s coast. For now, that’s a welcome development, but you’d want to see that sort of trend continue for 12 to 24 hours before drawing any conclusions.
As of the 2 p.m. Tuesday update, direct landfall of Matthew’s core and its surrounding eyewall along Florida's central and northern Atlantic coast remains quite possible, though landfall now appears rather less likely in South Florida. But even if the center remains completely off Florida’s shore, residents throughout much of the state's peninsula will experience some degree of hazardous conditions. Thus, today is the best day to prepare.
Based on the official 2 p.m. Tuesday advisory from the National Hurricane Center, here is some timing information (which will change as new forecasts are issued):
- Sustained tropical-storm force winds (39 mph to 57 mph) could brush Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach around noon Thursday and then substantially batter the Melbourne/Space Coast area around 3 p.m. Thursday and Jacksonville around 2 a.m. Friday.
- Stronger tropical-storm force winds (58 mph to 73 mph) could remain offshore in South Florida but brush points north starting at around 10 p.m. Thursday and into Friday morning.
- Hurricane-force winds (74 mph and above) could — could — remain offshore for much or all of Florida, if Matthew adheres to the latest advisory.
In addition, the leading edge of Matthew's squalls are expected to hit South Florida tomorrow afternoon and then hit the rest of the state’s east coast. That will complicate additional preparations, so again, today is the best time to get ready.
A direct landfall of the center along Florida's Atlantic Coast remains quite possible. At the very least, even if the center remains offshore, residents throughout much of Florida's peninsula will experience some degree of hazardous conditions. The forecast track has slowed a bit, leaving you more time to prepare. But this also means Matthew will be in your neighborhood for a longer time.
Some additional context: The last hurricane to strike South and Central Florida was Wilma in 2005. Many thousands of people have moved to those areas since then, a large number of them settling in the glass and metal towers that (foolishly) line South Florida's coast and bays.
This is potentially disastrous.
A study some years ago by National Hurricane Center chief hurricane forecaster James Franklin and other scientists found that hurricane eyewall winds above the 25th story of a high-rise building are 17 percent higher than they are near the surface. In other words, a Category 3 storm at the surface is a Category 4 storm above the 25th floor.
If evacuation orders are issued (and this may be a close call, given the forecast track), anyone living in an evacuation zone should comply — especially if they live in a high-rise or in a private home located on the coast (which will be vulnerable to a "storm surge" of ocean water).
Here are some of the usual preparation tips:
- Gather your flashlights and batteries and place them in convenient locations around the house. Special tip: Those new LED flashlights are terrific and well worth the extra money. Just one medium-size one, aimed toward the ceiling, illuminated half of our house during our three-day Hermine-related blackout a few weeks ago.
- If you have a propane grill, buy extra propane.
- If you have a portable generator, buy gasoline for it today (keeping it safely stored) and otherwise get the generator ready for action. Be sure to store it in a spot that is accessible after the storm.
- If you have a battery-operated portable radio, bring it out.
- Keep your cell phones and other rechargeable devices plugged in for as long as possible. After a storm, cell phones often are the only operating communications devices — until their batteries run out.
- If you have an old-fashioned landline phone, one that only needs to be plugged into a phone jack (and not also into an electrical socket), pull it out and plug it into a jack. Most landline systems provide their own electricity, and that old-fashioned landline might work for you during a power failure.
- Lower the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer. Make and store as much ice as you can.
- Take showers and baths as close to the storm's arrival as you can. Even most gas-operated, tankless heaters need electricity to maintain water temperature.
- Fill up your vehicles' fuel tanks today. Fuel pumps also require electricity.
- Shelter in garages as many vehicles as you can, and know how to open your garage door without help from an automatic garage door opener.
- Do not stack garbage or tree clippings in the street before the storm, and discourage your neighbors from doing so. This debris can become flying missiles in hurricane or tropical-storm winds.
- Get some cash out of your bank account. Cash comes back into style after a storm because credit card machines also need electricity.
- Make sure you have enough bottled water, bread, shelf-stable milk (for the kids), instant coffee, peanut butter, dried fruit, and other commodities for a week. Also, make sure you have some insect repellent and sunblock for use after the storm.
- Sports drinks also come in handy during the recovery phase as you're working around the house in the heat. (It's really better — safer — not to get boozed up during or after a storm. You know that, right?)
- Make sure you have enough meds for everyone in your family for a week or more.
- If you go shopping, don't forget toilet paper. (Remember: Everything that goes in generally comes back out.) Speaking of which, if water stops flowing, get a bucket and make friends with someone who has a pool or lives near a lake. Water from those sources works fine in toilet tanks.
- Make sure that your home and vehicle insurance policies are within reach.
- After the storm passes, NEVER drive through a flooded road or step into a puddle near downed trees or power poles. Most lives are lost during these storms due to inland flooding and dunderheaded walking.
- After the storm, as you begin to clean up, be vigilant in all other ways. Emergency rooms always tend to fill up with people who hurt themselves with chainsaws or have coronaries or have strokes or break their limbs or all of the above.
Listen to your forecasters, emergency managers, and other experts. They know how to get you through this.
In the end, this, too, shall pass.