Hurricane Matthew was a very powerful, long-lived and deadly tropical cyclone which became the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. The thirteenth named storm, fifth hurricane and second major hurricane of the active 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, Matthew wrought widespread destruction and catastrophic loss of life during its journey across the Western Atlantic, including parts of Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Lucayan Archipelago, the southeastern United States, and the Canadian Maritimes. At least 522 to over 1,381 estimated deaths have been attributed to the storm, including 473 to 1,332 in Haiti, 1 in Colombia, 4 in the Dominican Republic, 1 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and 43 in the United States, making it the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Stan in 2005, which killed more than 1,600 in Central America and Mexico. With the storm causing damages estimated in excess of US$5.2 billion, it was also the costliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Originating from a tropical wave that emerged off Africa on September 22, Matthew developed into a strong tropical storm upon approaching the Windward Islands on September 28. A period of explosive intensification ensued as the cyclone tracked across the Caribbean Sea; Matthew became a hurricane on September 29 and reached Category 5 intensity the following day at a record-low latitude. Only slight weakening followed as Matthew curved slowly towards the north, remaining a strong Category 4 hurricanes; early on October 4, Matthew made landfall on the Tiburon Peninsula of Haiti. The tropical cyclone briefly emerged into the Gulf of Gonâve and Windward Passage before making a second landfall on the eastern tip of Cuba. Land interaction helped to weaken the storm, though subsequent strengthening allowed Matthew to regain Category 4 intensity over the Bahamas. Between October 7–8, Matthew gradually weakened as it paralleled the coast of the southeastern United States, remaining just offshore before making landfall in South Carolina as a low-end hurricane. Matthew emerged into the Atlantic shortly afterwards, completing a transition into an extratropical cyclone on October 9.
Heavy rains and strong winds buffeted the Lesser Antilles as Matthew entered the Caribbean Sea as a strong tropical storm. The winds caused widespread power outages and damaged crops, particularly in St. Lucia, while flooding and landslides caused by the rainfall damaged many homes and roads. The storm’s unusually low latitude resulted in widespread flash flooding on the Guajira Peninsula, which saw its first heavy rain event in three years. Extensive preparations took place in Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola as the strong hurricane approached, including the opening of numerous shelters and the evacuation of roughly 1 million people in Cuba. Although Jamaica avoided significant impacts, Haiti experienced major impacts, including more than US$1 billion in damage and at least 1,000 deaths. The combination of flooding and high winds disrupted telecommunications and destroyed extensive swaths of land; around 80% of Jérémie sustained significant damage. Heavy rainfall spread eastward across the Dominican Republic, where four were killed. Effects in Cuba were most severe along the coast, where storm surge caused extensive damage in Guantánamo Province.
Passing through the Bahamas as a major hurricane, Matthew inflicted severe impacts across several islands, particularly Grand Bahama, where an estimated 95% of homes sustained damage in the townships of Eight Mile Rock and Holmes Rock. Preparations began in earnest across the southeastern United States as Matthew approached, with several states declaring a state of emergency for either entire states or coastal counties; widespread evacuations were ordered for extensive areas of the coast. In Florida, over 1 million lost power as the storm passed to the east, with 478,000 losing power in Georgia and South Carolina. While damage was primarily confined to the coast in the Florida and Georgia, torrential rains spread inland in the Carolinas and Virginia, causing widespread flooding.
On October 3, the governors of Florida and North Carolina declared a state of emergency. The next day, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley recommended an evacuation for those residents living within one hundred miles of the coast. Interstate 26 in South Carolina eastbound between the coast and Columbia was reversed on Wednesday to facilitate movement away from the Lowcountry and Charleston areas. Evacuations of Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina began this day as well. By October 4, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory had ordered that evacuation be mandatory. A state of emergency was also declared for 13 counties in eastern Georgia.
On October 5, Port Canaveral was closed by the U.S. Coast Guard, the first closure since 2004. Eight cruise ships and four cargo ships were scheduled to visit the port between October 5–9. On Cape Canaveral, home to both civilian and military spaceflight facilities, no rockets or spacecraft were in vulnerable positions; at the time of Matthew’s approach, the next launch was scheduled for November 4. The Kennedy Space Center began preparations of the facilities on October 5. Older buildings at the KSC were designed to withstand winds of 105–125 mph (170–200 km/h); buildings constructed after 1992, when Category 5 Hurricane Andrew struck the Miami area, are built to withstand 130 mph (210 km/h) winds. At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing began disconnecting electric power to non-essential facilities on October 4.
For only the fourth time in its 45-year history, the Walt Disney World resort closed. Its theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs were closed at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on October 6 and did not open on October 7. This was the first time since 2004 that the parks have closed, all instances due to hurricanes. Other Orlando-area theme parks, including Universal Orlando, resort and SeaWorld Orlando, also closed.
The Southeastern Conference football matchup between LSU and Florida, scheduled for October 8 in Gainesville, was cancelled. The hurricane washed out NASCAR racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 7 and 8, with the Drive for the Cure 300 race in the Xfinity Series originally scheduled for October 7 and the Bank of America 500 race in the Sprint Cup Series originally scheduled for October 8 both postponed until October 9.
On October 6, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency for Florida, later extending to include Georgia and South Carolina.
On October 6, Florida’s governor Rick Scott urged over 1.5 million people to evacuate, with Hurricane Matthew expected to make landfall by the evening of that day. Several news anchors also issued dire warnings urging Floridians to evacuate.
Also on October 6, Georgia’s governor Nathan Deal ordered a mandatory evacuation for all areas of the state east of Interstate 95, and the Georgia Department of Public Safety reversed the eastbound lanes on a portion of Interstate 16 effective until the following day.
Florida and Georgia
As Matthew tracked parallel to the Florida coast, it left over one million people without power across the state of Florida. In Indialantic, Florida, firefighters exposed themselves to the storm’s winds to put out a fire which reportedly destroyed a greenhouse. In Florida, one woman died due to a heart attack; she had called for aid, but medical services were not able to arrive due to Matthew’s high winds. Another two women were killed by falling trees. In the Flagler Beach area, a portion of Florida State Road A1A was washed away. At Kennedy Space Center, winds reached 80 mph (130 km/h) at ground level while a gust of 136 mph (219 km/h) was observed atop a 500 ft (150 m) tower. The facility suffered several million dollars-worth of damage, though overall impacts were less than anticipated. The roof of Operations Support Building II broke and rainwater damaged the interior. Air conditioning was lost throughout Launch Complex 39 as well. The planned launch NASA’s next generation satellite, GOES-R, was expected to be delayed due to suspension of operations during Matthew.
Over 250,000 customers were left without power in Georgia after Hurricane Matthew affected the area. Roads were also blocked in the Brunswick, Georgia area, where all access points to St. Simons Island were rendered impassable.
North and South Carolina
An additional 473,000 customers were left without power in South Carolina, where significant flooding was reported to have occurred in Charleston after a seawall was breached. Hilton Head Island experienced widespread power outages, and two roads onto the island were blocked by fallen pine trees and numerous others were submerged.
Three vehicle-related fatalities occurred in North Carolina in connection with rain produced by the storm. Four more deaths were later confirmed in the state. 680,000 in North Carolina were without power at one point. Sections of Interstate 95 in South Carolina and in North Carolina had to be shut down as a result of hurricane flooding. The Lumber River reached a record 24 ft (7.3 m) in the south end of Lumberton, breaking the record of 20.5 ft (6.2 m) feet.
Virginia and the Northeast
When it hit Virginia, Matthew caused two deaths and street flooding in the eastern part of the state. The Northeast ended up getting heavy rain and minor flooding throughout the days of October 9 and 10.
In total, the storm has killed 43 people in the US, including 22 in North Carolina, 12 in Florida, 3 in Georgia, 4 in South Carolina, and 2 in Virginia. Early estimates indicate total economic losses of at least US $4–6 billion in the southeastern United States, prior to the widespread flooding in North Carolina.