Tropical Storm Matthew formed this morning just east of the Caribbean Sea. It is the 13th named storm of the season and one forecasters said bears watching in Florida.
The official National Hurricane Center forecast calls for Matthew to become a Category 2 hurricane by Sunday after making an unusually abrupt right turn that takes it near Jamaica.
But it is unclear what Matthew’s future holds beyond that, with forecast models taking it anywhere from east of the Bahamas to Texas.
AccuWeather meteorologist Steve Travis said there should be better guidance on Matthew’s path once it makes the turn north, which is expected to happen sometime Saturday south of Jamaica.
“The entire state of Florida, eastern U.S. and Gulf Coast should keep an eye on Matthew’s progression over the next few days,” Travis said. “The main thing right now is to be patient. This is a difficult forecast situation.”
As of the 5 p.m. advisory, Matthew was 65 miles west of Saint Lucia in the Windward Islands moving west at 18 mph. The newest forecast track puts the center of the cone of uncertainty just to the east of Jamaica early Monday.
Besides tropical storm force winds spreading over the southern Leeward Islands, Matthew is also expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain across the islands.
It’s too early to say what kind, if any, impact the storm will have on Florida.
Update 11 a.m.: The National Hurricane Center has named Tropical Storm Matthew after a Hurricane Hunter found a closed circulation during a flight this morning.
The five-day forecast track for Matthew has it taking a strong right turn on Saturday and hitting Jamaica Monday as a hurricane.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for the French Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The Barbados government has issued a tropical storm warning for Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent.
Hurricane center forecasters believe Matthew will become a 105 mph Category 2 storm by Sunday.
Matthew is the 13th named storm of the 2016 hurricane season. That means that it is officially an above normal season as far as the number of named-storms go.
“The last time we had a hurricane in the Caribbean, it was Hurricane Sandy,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground and former NOAA Hurricane Hunter. “Whenever you get a hurricane in the Caribbean this time of year, Florida should be concerned.”
Matthew has maximum sustained winds speeds of 60 mph and is heading west at 21 mph.
Previous story: The National Hurricane Center reiterated in its 8 a.m. advisory that the large area of tropical disturbance now 170 miles east of Barbados would “likely” form into a tropical depression or storm today.
Early results from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter has found winds of 40 to 45 mph, but the mission is just underway and a closed circulation has yet to be determined.
Satellite and surface observations suggest that the circulation has become better defined, forecasters said.
The system is moving west to west-northwest at 15 to 20 mph, and is expected to pass over the Windward Islands later today and move into the southeastern Caribbean Sea tonight.
An Air Force Hurricane Hunter is began its mission at 7:30 this morning to see if it can find a closed surface center of circulation, an indicator that it had become a formal tropical system.
If it is named, it would be Matthew, the 13th named storm of the 2016 storm season. It would also bring the number of named storms to above average for the year.
That would be the first time for an above average year since 2013.
Hurricane center forecasters warned that despite the system having no name, it was still producing winds to near tropical storm force, and that the thunderstorm activity continues to show signs of organization.
The system has a 90 percent chance of development over the next 48 hours.
The red thatched area in the image above is where the center believes the storm could develop, not the proposed track of the system.
In a column for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, Angela Fritz and University of Miami’s Brian McNoldy say it’s too soon to mention specifics regarding landfall, “if there is a landfall at all.”
“But coastal residents along the Gulf and East coasts should be aware that there is the potential for a tropical storm or hurricane in their vicinity next week,” they wrote.
While it may seem unlikely for a tropical system to hang a right turn so quickly, forecasters say there is precedence.
“This sharp turn is expected to occur on Friday night or on Saturday, and the exact timing of the the turn has huge implications for who experiences the the peak wrath of the storm,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground a former NOAA Hurricane Hunter in a Tuesday afternoon blog. “The models are quite bullish on this becoming a hurricane when it makes its landfall early next week in the islands.”