UPDATE (8AM) -- Hurricane Matthew has strengthened to a Category 2 storm as it continues to track west at 14 mph in the Caribbean.
The storm's maximum sustained winds have increased to 105mph. The U.S. National Hurricane Center expects additional strengthening today and Matthew is forecast to become a Category 3 hurricane by tomorrow morning.
Matthew is currently centered about 520 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.
FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE:
Matthew continues to look more organized on satellite with a more rounded appearance as thunderstorms develop and wrap around the circulation center and an eye tries to form. The pressures have steadily dropped in the storm, down to 971 mb as of 8 AM Friday as wind speeds increase to 105mph.
WHERE IS IT HEADED NOW?
Matthew continues to move west, if not a bit south of west at around 15 mph. This movement is expected to continue into Friday and the outer edges of the storm may graze the A B C Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and parts of coastal Columbia and Venezuela with tropical storm force winds in the next couple of days.
HOW STRONG WILL IT GET?
Matthew is expected to become a major hurricane in the Caribbean. There are some factors working against it, including some southwesterly wind shear and speed divergence due to the trade winds in the central Caribbean but it may be able to overcome these negatives to continue strengthening. Matthew is forecast to become a Category 3 status by this Saturday.
WHERE WILL IT EVENTUALLY GO?"
Matthew will continue west through this weekend before turning toward the north by Sunday into next week. The big question is how far west will it go before the north turn occurs? Right now the current thinking is the storm will pass very close to or over Jamaica then move over eastern Cuba before approaching the Bahamas. The track consensus shows a path right over Andros Island and the city of Nassau before moving northward toward North Carolina's Outer Banks. There are some questions as to how quickly the storm will move northward and exactly how far west the track will be. Two factors will be influencing the path....an upper level high pressure cell over the Atlantic that is steering it westward now and an upper level trough of low pressure that will form over the central Gulf. The trough will act as a wall to keep Matthew from entering the Gulf and the high pressure ridge will block the system from moving out to sea. It is there that Matthew will track in between these two features. The strength of either one and the placement will be key to the forecast track through early next week.
WILL SOUTHWEST FLORIDA BE IMPACTED?
Probably not directly as things stand now. I feel that it is foolish, however, to completely dismiss the idea of South Florida being impacted by Matthew in some shape or form. I feel that a direct impact right now looks LOW with little or no effect on our weather given the current forecast track. It should be noted however that we are several days away from the storm being in close proximity to the area and plenty can change between now and then. While a direct impact looks slim to none at this point, it is important that you do not dismiss the idea of SOME impact in South Florida, particularly the East Coast as even a close track to Florida could produce some impacts to the area. Low chance but NOT zero.
We'll keep you updated.
Chief Meteorologist Derek Beasley