Mostly dry and warmer here while East Coast watches Matthew

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hurricane Matthew will dominate the weather news this week.

After hitting Haiti, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas, the big question will be whether Matthew stays in the Atlantic or blows ashore on the U.S. East Coast.

Fortunately, here in the Gulf South our biggest weather question will be whether we get a brief shower today or Wednesday or whether our streak without rain extends to two weeks.

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Hurricane Matthew appears destined to claim a spot in Atlantic hurricane history.

Matthew is the strongest Atlantic hurricane in nine years. For several hours Friday night as it swirled 400 miles south of Haiti, Matthew’s winds peaked at 160 miles per hour. These were the highest surface winds over the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix swept across the Caribbean Sea in 2007 with winds of 170 miles per hour.

In just 36 hours Matthew rapidly intensified from a tropical storm on Thursday morning to a category five hurricane by Friday night. According to Dr. Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University, only two other Atlantic hurricanes, Wilma in 2005 and Felix in 2007, have intensified more rapidly than Matthew.

Matthew intensified even though it was in a region of moderate wind shear, meaning that there were high-altitude cross winds blowing into the

storm. Wind shear often tears apart the towering clouds near the core of a tropical cyclone. Somehow Matthew managed not only to survive but to thrive.

Matthew’s intensification was not predicted by the models used by forecasters. Whereas hurricane track forecasts have steadily improved over the past twenty years, meteorologists still have much less skill predicting tropical cyclone intensity changes.

Fortunately, Matthew’s rapid intensification occurred in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

Failure to forecast rapid intensification of a hurricane in the hours just before landfall could lull coastal residents into a dangerous false sense of security.

Sadly, it is likely that Matthew will be remembered for its impact on the country of Haiti. As I write this on Monday morning, the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicts that Matthew will slam into that impoverished nation on Monday night.

Potentially even more devastating than the winds over Haiti will be the rain.

Because of the relatively slow forward speed of the storm and the extra uplift provided by Haiti’s mountains, NHC forecasters advised that Matthew could “produce total rain accumulations of 15 to 25 inches in southern Haiti and the southwestern portion of the Dominican Republic, with possible isolated amounts of 40 inches.”

Hopefully, Haiti’s mountains will weaken the cyclone. Regardless, as Matthew continues northward residents of the Bahamas are in for some rough days this week.

While the most likely scenario is that Matthew will stay seaward off the U.S. East Coast, there is still enough uncertainty in how the steering currents over the U.S. and the Atlantic are evolving that residents of the nation’s eastern seaboard will have to pay attention.

Meanwhile for us, after a week of beautiful fall weather, highs in the upper 80s are back. Enough humidity returns today and Wednesday to produce a few isolated showers, our only chance of rain for the next week or more.

A dry cool front will bring back cooler fall-feeling air over the weekend.

By Skip Rigney