TIME weather

What to Know About Hurricane Matthew

“This storm will kill you,” says Florida's Governor Rick Scott, encouraging affected residents to evacuate

The “monster” Hurricane Matthew, after slamming through the Caribbean, has been closing in on the U.S. as expected all night late Thursday and early Friday, triggering the largest mandatory evacuations since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The National Hurricane Center says this “extremely dangerous” hurricane is moving “parallel to and just offshore” of Florida’s eastern seaboard as of 5 a.m. EDT Friday, in its latest public advisory. Multiple warnings have been given to the public to charge their electronic devices in anticipation of potential power outages.

Storm surge of anywhere between one and 11 feet along the southeast Atlantic seaboard is expected Friday morning, affecting coastal areas of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The high tide later Friday morning is expected to only make things worse.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane hunters posted early Friday this video of their most recent flight into the storm’s eye.

Florida’s governor Rick Scott tweeted just after 4:30 a.m. EDT Friday that Matthew’s eyewall is within 5 miles of Florida’s central coast, and cautioned people in the state to stay aware.

Just 40 miles (65 km) off Cape Canaveral, Fla., and 90 miles (150 km) southeast of Daytona Beach, Fla., Matthew’s sustained wind speed is hitting up to 120 m.p.h. (195 km/h), down from the previous Category-4 levels of 130 m.p.h. (209 km/h). The Hurricane Center says that the storm, now a strong Category-3 hurricane, is moving north-northwest at 13 m.p.h. (22 km/h), scraping along the Sunshine State’s east coast.

Here is what we know about Matthew so far:

1. Where in the U.S. is Matthew expected to hit?

The storm is expected to bring strong winds, rainfall and storm surge to the Southeast Atlantic coast area. In total, over 2 million people in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia have been told to evacuate, the largest since Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast in 2012. Officials warned Wednesday that the hurricane is an imminent threat to anyone in its path. “This storm will kill you,” Florida’s Governor Rick Scott said at a press conference earlier. “Time is running out.”

“If there is an evacuation order in your community, you need to take it seriously,” President Obama said after a briefing on the storm. “You can always rebuild, you can always repair property; you cannot restore a life if it is lost.”

Here is the Hurricane Center’s latest 5-day track forecast for Matthew:

There were reports of difficulty accessing the Hurricane Center’s website throughout Thursday evening, which the agency said around midnight Friday was caused a “technical issue” that was subsequently fixed shortly before 3 a.m. ET on Friday. It has continued to provide updates via Twitter through the night.

2. How bad is it?

President Obama has declared a state of emergency in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Even as a strong Category-3 storm, Matthew has whipped the southeastern seaboard with forceful winds and downpour. “This storm’s a monster,” Scott said at a press conference Thursday evening. “I’m going to pray for everybody’s safety.”

It is also increasingly likely that the storm could make a U-turn and hit Florida a second time, which would hamper initial recovery efforts.

The Weather Channel reports that Matthew is set to become the strongest tropical storm to slam into the east coast in Florida since Hurricane Andrew pummeled the area in 1992.

A local National Weather Service (NWS) advisory for Melbourne, Fla., late Thursday night contains what CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen calls “the strongest language he’s seen since Hurricane Katrina.” The advisory urges that “efforts should fully focus on protecting life,” warning that “failure to adequately shelter may result in serious injury, loss of life, or immense human suffering.” It adds that after the storm, “locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

As the night proceeds, an updated NWS advisory for the Melbourne area asks the public to “prepare for life-threatening winds” with potentially “devastating impacts across coastal counties of east central Florida,” and warns that “locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

By early Friday morning, the NWS branch office in Melbourne, Fla. warned of gust winds of up to 115 m.p.h (185 km/h).

In the face of possible widespread disruption in the power grid, multiple government officials and media outlets have been advising people in areas affected by Matthew to charge their electronic devices.

Overnight Friday, the NWS is forecasting that the area around Charleston, S.C., would face peak wind speeds of 45 m.p.h. (70 km/h) to 60 m.p.h. (95 km/h), with occasional gusts up to 75 m.p.h. (120 km/h).

On the other hand, Florida’s southern tip looks to be relieved from the storm’s worst effects, as the 5 a.m. EDT Hurricane Center advisory sees the warning from Jupiter Inlet south to Boca Raton dowgraded from a Hurricane Warning to a Tropical Storm Warning, while the Tropical Storm Warning for areas south of Boca Raton was cancelled altogether.

3. Follow the latest official instructions for your safety — if you haven’t already left.

If you are in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, you should have already checked if you need to evacuate. If you haven’t left, check your options for hunkering down or the nearest shelters immediately. Officials are taking Matthew very seriously, because it has already caused hundreds of deaths and wreaked severe damage in three Caribbean countries.

“There are no excuses” to not evacuate, declared Scott. “You need to leave. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate … Are you willing to take a gamble? That’s what you’re doing.”

As the storm closes in, emergency services in Brevard County in Florida announced on Twitter shortly after midnight Friday that the situation had deteriorated so badly that 911 responses could no longer be provided.

4. What about storm surges?

Meteorologists are expecting storm surge to come with the storm, which could raise sea levels as much as 9 ft. (2.7 m) in some coastal communities in Florida. Forecasters say it is particularly serious during high tide — which is expected just after midnight Friday morning and again early Friday afternoon along the Florida coast, just as the storm is along it.

Unlike heavy rainfall, storm surge will start before locals expect it. “You’re going to get storm surge before the storm gets there,” says Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central.

Storm surge has worsened the damage in some particularly devastating storms in the past, including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy where storm surge reached heights of 25 ft. (7 m) and 9 ft. (2.7 m), respectively, according to a National Hurricane Center report.

5. How is transportation and other infrastructure being affected?

The Associated Press (AP) reports that over 1,500 flights have been canceled Thursday, and more that 1,300 flights Friday, in anticipation of bad weather. American Airlines, with a large operation in Miami, is the worst hit by these cancellations, followed by JetBlue and Southwest Airlines.

Fort Lauderdale and Orlando airports have already closed, with the latter not expected to reopen until Sunday. Delta Air Lines, which has a hub in Atlanta, told AP that cancellations were likely to spread to coastal Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday.

The Sun Sentinel is reporting that while Miami International Airport will remain open, all airlines flying there have suspended their flights. It also reports that all south Floridian seaports have either been closed or seen cruises rerouted in the face of Matthew, and the local Tri-Rail trains are expected to be out of service through the weekend.

Highways in south Florida are expected to remain open, according to the Sun Sentinel, but authorities are warning the public to be extremely cautious. A voluntary driving ban is also in effect in Broward County in Florida. Meanwhile, a section of I-16 highway in Georgia has been given over to exclusive use by evacuees of the area, reports the Macon Telegraph.

As of 5 a.m. ET on Friday, Matthew had caused at least over 307,000 homes and businesses across Florida to lose power, according to the Florida Power & Light Co. A CNN correspondent reporting from Palm Bay, Fla., said overnight Friday on CNN that he and his crew had seen “transformers popping off” in the late hours of Thursday.

The Kennedy Space Center, located in Cape Canaveral, announced that it would be closed Thursday and Friday, saying that it expects hurricane-force wind to hit surrounding areas Friday morning. Mashable reports that the NASA facility has never experienced a direct hit of this magnitude before.

6. It has left a trail of devastation in the Caribbean

The destruction wrought by Matthew has wrought devastation in Haiti, where at least 283 people died. Many houses and bridges have collapsed. This is the first time in more than half a century Haiti has been hit directly by a Category-4 storm. The storm also blew through the Bahamas and eastern Cuba, but the damage was far lighter.

The U.N.’s mission in Haiti has tweeted Thursday night several images of destruction in the country left behind by Matthew.

7. Matthew isn’t the only hurricane in the Atlantic at the moment.

A second hurricane, Nicole, is also developing in the Atlantic. Though the latest Hurricane Center forecast has Nicole 340 miles (545 km) south of Bermuda, it is already a category-2 storm, with sustained wind speeds at nearly 105 m.p.h. (165 km/h).

8. How can I help?

Hurricane Matthew has caused much destruction and misery both in the U.S. and elsewhere. If you would like to donate to a charity helping with recovery efforts, which would likely take a very long time, here is a handy guide to giving efficiently.

Donating blood at your local Red Cross is another helpful gesture, as blood donation drives across the region feeling Matthew’s full force have been disrupted, according to a Red Cross representative on CNN.

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