Update 5 p.m.: Hurricane Matthew has strengthened to an incredibly powerful Category 4 hurricane.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center called the rapid intensification “remarkable.”
Some additional strengthening is possible in the next 12 hours, and the storm could grow to 145 mph.
But forecasters said given the lack of skill in previous forecasts, the estimate of 145 mph may be “conservative.”
Forecasters also adjusted the cone of uncertainty slightly to the left, nudging it closer to South Florida.
Update 2 p.m. Hurricane Matthew has intensified, reaching 120 mph winds.
The National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. update says that a NOAA Hurricane Hunter plane found that wind speeds in Matthew increased from 115 mph this morning to 120 mph. That makes Matthew a strong Category 3 storm with a minimum central pressure of 960 mb.
Matthew is expected to reach Jamaica Monday morning with 115 mph winds. It is forecast to move over Cuba, where it will weaken some after interacting with the mountains.
The current five-day forecast track has the storm off the coast of South Florida early Wednesday. While Palm Beach County is not in the cone of error, the cone does skim the southeast Florida coast.
National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb urged Floridians not to “tune out” over the weekend, noting that a little wobble in the path could put South Florida deeper in the cone of concern.
“We cannot rule out a direct hurricane impact in Florida next week,” Knabb said. “Come Monday, we may have a very different forecast than what you see here.”
Indeed, Matthew could be closer or further from Florida depending on when it makes a critical turn to the north, which is forecast to happen today. The abrupt shift in direction is expected to follow the western edge of the Bermuda High as it steers Matthew off its western track.
National Weather Service meteorologists in Miami held a special briefing for emergency managers Friday, warning that while the exact track of Matthew is uncertain, South Florida will feel impacts regardless.
Seas offshore could swell 15 feet or higher, while near shore waves could reach 15 feet. Rip current risks will increase early in the week, as there will be rough surf and possibly beach erosion.
“Don’t let your guard down,” cautioned Miami-based meteorologist Anthony Reynes. “We have to remain vigilant. Any small deviation in the track could have a significant impact on the final outcome for South Florida.”
Update 11 a.m. Hurricane Matthew has gained Category 3 strength with 115 mph winds.
The National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. update shows that the storm has not only increased in wind speeds but also has had a drop in minimum central pressure to 968 mb, indicating the rapid intensification.
The storm has slowed some to 12 mph, which could help it make a turn to the north more quickly. The quicker it turns, the more it is likely to move away from Florida’s coast.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 35 miles from the center of Matthew, with tropical storm-force winds extending out up to 195 miles.
Matthew has continued to intensify despite strong winds shear and although computer models point to weakening in the near future because of the shear, hurricane center forecasters said they were “reluctant” to decrease the wind prediction considering the shear has had little impact so far.
Forecasters made few changes to the track they expect Matthew to take, which puts the cone of uncertainty just along the coast of South Florida.
“We cannot rule out a direct hurricane impact in Florida next week,” said NHC Director Rick Knabb. “But we have the luxury of time in South Florida and the things that you might not have done to prepare, you could still do this weekend.”
Matthew is now expected to hit the southeast part of Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane late Monday, and then weaken some after interaction with the country’s mountains. But it will maintain Category 2 strength as it moves into the Bahamas.
In a special weather briefing this morning, the National Weather Service in Miami said while there is still much uncertainty in the forecast, meteorologists are expecting high seas and gusty winds to begin Tuesday afternoon and remain through Thursday.
“We have to stay alert over the weekend,” said NWS meteorologist Anthony Reynes. “Don’t lower your guard. Stay on top of this.”
Previous story: Hurricane Matthew rapidly intensified overnight and is expected to become a major hurricane within the next 24 hours reaching wind speeds of 120 mph.
The National Hurricane Center sent a special 2 a.m. bulletin saying an Air Force Hurricane Hunter found Matthew’s central minimum pressure had fallen to 979 mb and was up to wind speeds of 100 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane.
As of the 8 a.m. forecast, the winds were up to 105 mph. The next hurricane center update is 11 a.m.
Although Matthew is still expected to make a sharp turn to the right in the next 48 hours and track north through the Bahamas, forecasters adjusted the path slightly to the west overnight putting South Florida just outside the cone of uncertainty on Wednesday.
The cone indicates the area where forecasters believe Matthew could track and it should be noted that forecasts five days out have margins of error of up to 240 miles.
National Hurricane Center experts said this morning that how strong Matthew will get is hard to tell because it has intensified despite heavy wind shear working against it.
“The intensity forecast is very problematic,” wrote NHC expert Jack Beven in the 5 a.m. discussion. “The ongoing shear has so far done little to keep Matthew from intensifying.”
Despite that, the official forecast says Matthew is expected to weaken as it passes near Jamaica and over the southeastern edge of Cuba.
It should be down to a 100-mph Category 2 storm on Tuesday after reaching the waters north of Cuba.
South Florida north to about Vero Beach has a 5 percent chance of feeling tropical storm force winds, according to the wind speed probabilities map from the hurricane center.
Colorado State Hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said Matthew reaching 100 mph makes it the strongest tropical cyclone in the eastern Caribbean in September since 2007’s Hurricane Felix.
,As of 8 a.m., Matthew was moving west-southwest at 14 mph and was about 520 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.
Forecasters said a hurricane watch may be issued for Jamaica later today.