Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Matthew is maintaining its 75 mph winds despite strong wind shear as it heads west through the Caribbean.
The National Hurricane Center’s official forecast has Matthew strengthening to a 105 mph Category 2 storm by Monday before hitting the southeast coast of Cuba.
A five-day forecast track takes Matthew north through the Bahamas. South Florida could be on the periphery of the cone of uncertainty by tomorrow morning, but forecasters warned that there is low confidence in the path this far out.
Update 1:40 p.m.: Matthew has strengthened into a hurricane with 75 mph winds.
It is the fifth hurricane of the season, and gradual strengthening is expected as it moves further west across the Caribbean.
According to the official 2 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter found winds speeds to 75 mph with higher gusts. It also has intensified with a minimum central pressure of 993 mb.
While it’s not a surprise Matthew grew to hurricane force, it did have to fight off strong wind shear to meet the threshold. Hurricane-force winds extend out up to 70 miles from the center of Matthew with tropical-storm force winds extending to 205 miles.
It is still too early to know how, or if, Matthew will impact Florida.
Long-term track models from one of the more respected models take Matthew off the coast of Florida through the Bahamas – a similar track taken by Hurricanes Joaquin last year and Sandy in 2012,.
The European model is less clear, still allowing for the possibility that Matthew could go anywhere from east of the Bahamas into the Gulf of Mexico.
Steve Travis, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said it’s not uncommon for track models to disagree this far out in the forecast.
“We kind of have to split the difference right now and keep an eye on everything,” Travis said.
But he said other hurricane models are latching onto the one that takes it off the east coast of Florida.
The official forecast from the NHC says Matthew will become a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds by Sunday, but AccuWeather meteorologists said the storm could reach a low Category 3.
Update 11 a.m.: Tropical Storm Matthew is maintaining 70 mph winds as it moves west at 15 mph.
Gradual strengthening is expected over the next 48 hours and Matthew is expected to become a hurricane later today or tonight, according to the National Hurricane Center.
While Matthew is fighting wind shear, information from an Air Force Hurricane Hunter has found the storm has intensified this morning, with the minimum central pressure dropping to 996 mb.
The track forecast has changed little since the 8 a.m. advisory, but the NHC makes clear that the overall confidence in the current track is low.
It is still too early to say whether Matthew will have any impact on Florida, but the National Weather Service in Miami said they are at least expecting higher seas next week.
While the official forecast track only goes through day five, many models are taking the system off the east coast of Florida through the Bahamas.
“We have a fairly high degree of confidence that we should see increasing seas early next week and certainly toward the middle of the week, especially over the offshore waters,” said Anthony Reynes, NWS meteorologist in Miami.
Previous story: Tropical Storm Matthew is up to 70 mph winds as of the 8 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center and is expected to build to hurricane strength today or Friday.
The storm, which is about 300 miles south of Puerto Rico, has slowed some in its forward movement, heading west now at 13 mph.
Its forecast path is mostly unchanged from yesterday and it is still too early to know exactly how it will impact Florida, if at all, but many long range models are taking it east of the state.
The official National Hurricane Center forecast goes out only five days, making it a Category 2 hurricane hitting the southeastern portion of Cuba Tuesday.
Forecasters noted in this morning’s report that while the official forecast calls for maximum sustained winds of 100 mph before interacting with Cuba, conflicting models show system could strengthen more than currently predicted.
Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 185 miles, primarily to the north and east of the center.
Matthew is expected to make a hard right turn Saturday or Sunday, sending it north along the western edge of the Bermuda High.
But National Hurricane Center forecasters warned this morning that errors in a 4-5 day forecast can be on the order of 180 and 240 miles.
“There is significant disagreement between the dynamic models on where the turn will occur and how fast Matthew will move northward,” wrote NHC hurricane expert Jack Beven in this morning’s discussion.
Matthew’s severe turn to the north may seem implausible, but meteorologists said Wednesday it is a path taken by previous tropical cyclones, including 1954’s Hurricane Hazel, which scooted over the southeastern Bahamas to make landfall as a Category 4 storm in the Carolinas.
While the NHC does not speculate on storm futures further than five days out, private forecasters were looking ahead this morning for potential impacts to the U.S.
“Even if Matthew moves northward across Cuba early next week, as we suspect it will, then it could still find a way to get into the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno.
Several upper-level features, such as a low expected to sit over the Mid-Atlantic and a trough forecast to move across the U.S. next week, could affect Matthew’s path, according to Weather Underground.
“The upper-level flow across North America and the North Atlantic will include several blocking features late this week into early next week, and these are notoriously difficult to predict,” wrote Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground. “The most we can say at this point is that Matthew has the potential to make landfall somewhere along the Gulf or Atlantic U.S. coasts by later next week.”