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Hurricane Matthew: The Timeline

Hurricane Matthew was one of the most destructive storms of recent years, killing more than 1,000 people during its savage trek from the Caribbean to Cape Hatteras. The hurricane’s storm surge and torrential rainfall caused severe flooding from Florida to North Carolina and inflicted damage in the US estimated by analysts at a minimum of...

Hurricane Matthew was one of the most destructive storms of recent years, killing more than 1,000 people during its savage trek from the Caribbean to Cape Hatteras. The hurricane’s storm surge and torrential rainfall caused severe flooding from Florida to North Carolina and inflicted damage in the US estimated by analysts at a minimum of $10 billion. Some informed observers think storms such as Matthew may be an indication of extreme events to come. Here’s the timeline of this historic, deadly hurricane:

Sunday, September 25
A tropical wave leaves the west coast of Africa and moves westward across the Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday, September 28
The tropical wave gains strength and becomes a tropical storm near the Windward Islands at the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. The storm is designated Matthew, the 13th tropical storm of the 2016 hurricane season.

Thursday, September 29
Tropical Storm Matthew begins to rapidly strengthen and becomes a minimal hurricane on the afternoon of September 29. Its peak winds are 75 mph. The storm’s center moves almost due west, just off the coasts of Venezuela and Colombia.

Friday, September 30
Matthew continues to rapidly intensify. In just nine hours, the storm’s peak winds have strengthened to 100 mph. Six hours later, its peak winds are 115 mph, and six hours after that, the storm has exploded to peak winds of 140 mph.

September 30-October 1
Hurricane Matthew’s peak winds reach an astonishing 160 mph while the storm’s eye is less than 100 miles off the coast of Colombia. Its intensification from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane is one of the fastest on record. Colorado State University research meteorologist Phil Klotzbach later notes that when Matthew became a Category 5 hurricane at latitude 13.3, it was the farthest south that a storm of that intensity has ever formed in the Atlantic Basin. Matthew begins weakening slightly a few hours later, but it maintains peak winds of at least 140 mph throughout its trek across the Caribbean Sea.

Sunday, October 2
Hurricane Matthew begins turning to the northwest and then due north. The storm’s peak winds diminish some, but as it approaches Haiti it still has peak winds of around 140 mph.

Tuesday, October 4
Hurricane Matthew makes landfall in Haiti and eastern Cuba as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm’s fierce winds and heavy rainfall are especially devastating to Haiti.

The New York Times reports that Matthew “left a broad tableau of devastation: houses pummeled into timber, crops destroyed and stretches of towns and villages under several feet of water. In the southern city of Jérémie, 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.”

Three storm-chasers—Greg Nordstrom, meteorology instructor at Mississippi State University; Michael Haynes, a meteorologist at WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi; and Michael Laca, producer of TropMet in Miami, decide to meet in Vero Beach, Florida, where Hurricane Matthew is expected to make landfall.

Wednesday, October 5

The forecast track for the storm predicts that it will scrape the east coast of the Florida peninsula from about West Palm Beach to Jacksonville, then gradually turn to follow the curve of the coastline from Georgia to around Charleston, South Carolina. At that point, forecasters think, it will make a sharp turn to the east and head out to sea.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials close the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

October 5-6

The hurricane crosses the Bahamas. Its strongest winds fluctuate between 135 mph and 145 mph, but it inflicts a punishing blow on the islands.

Meteorologist Wayne Neely in Nassau later reports flooding and blocked roads throughout the islands. Neely says the Royal Bahamas Police Force had to rescue more than 100 people on the island of New Providence.

Hurricane warnings are posted from Broward County, Florida to Edisto Beach, South Carolina. At 2 p.m., the center of Hurricane Matthew is about 125 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Colorado State University research meteorologist Phil Klotzbach says on Twitter that Hurricane Matthew’s current barometric pressure reading of 938 millibars is the fifth-lowest for an Atlantic hurricane this late in the hurricane season in the last 36 years. A hurricane’s barometric pressure is one of the best indicators of its intensity.

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is closed for only the fourth time since its opening in 1971.

As the hurricane approaches Florida, NOAA radar detects tropical birds unable to escape the storm’s calm eye.

At 2 p.m., the center of Hurricane Matthew is about 125 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Hundreds of thousands of coastal residents in Georgia and South Carolina are urged to move inland away from the hurricane.

The eye of Matthew doesn’t come as close to land as expected as it passes the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. By 8 p.m., the eye of the storm is about 75 miles offshore from West Palm Beach.

Storm chasers Haynes, Laca and Nordstrom ride out the hurricane in the three-story parking garage overlooking the Atlantic in Vero Beach, Florida. The strongest winds around Matthew’s eye are blowing at 125 mph to more than 130 mph, but the eye stays offshore as it passes Vero Beach. Nordstrom later estimates that peak sustained winds onshore were around 60 mph, with gusts reaching 85 mph to 90 mph. The chasers watch huge waves breaking onto the beach, but Nordstrom later says Matthew “wasn’t that bad overall” as it passed their location.

Friday, October 7

Storm chasers Haynes, Laca and Nordstrom leave the parking garage in Vero Beach, Florida to see what Hurricane Matthew did as it passed their spot. Nordstrom later says the damage was minor. But Vero Beach and other nearby towns had been very lucky. “If Matthew had gone maybe 30 to 40 miles west, the situation would have been much different!” Nordstrom says later.

Matthew’s eye remains just offshore as it moves northward along the Florida coast. The hurricane’s storm surge arrives at about the same time as the afternoon high tide in Saint Augustine, Florida, the nation’s oldest city. The storm sends water over the city’s seawall and into the historic downtown. Jacksonville and Ormond Beach also have some flooding.

Historic Saint Augustine, Florida was flooded by Hurricane Matthew’s storm surge. This photo by the Saint Augustine Beach Police Department shows flooding on Anastasia Island, a barrier island offshore from Saint Augustine.

Despite the flooding and other damage, the hurricane’s eye wall does not touch Florida as it continues northward. Still, at least five deaths in Florida are attributed to the hurricane and around 1 million Florida residents are without power. By Friday afternoon, the storm’s strongest winds are blowing at 110 mph, making it a very strong Category 2 hurricane.

Parts of Savannah, including the city’s historic River Street, go underwater as Matthew’s eye moves northward off the Georgia coast. Saint Simon Island near Savannah is also flooded by the storm surge.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation reports that Interstate 95 is impassable because of flooding.

Saturday, October 8

Hurricane Matthew’s eye comes ashore around 11 a.m. in South Carolina about 30 miles northeast of Charleston. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Weather Underground report that the storm “pushed a historic and destructive storm surge” from Florida to South Carolina.

As the storm passes Folly Beach near Charleston, its wave action uncovers a dozen or more Civil War-era cannonballs that had been buried in the sand. The hurricane also destroys a landmark pier in the resort city of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Much of Myrtle Beach is underwater because of Matthew’s storm surge. By this time, the storm has weakened to a Category 1 hurricane with winds of about 75 mph. But it is still a very dangerous and destructive storm.

Matthew’s eye passes Wilmington, North Carolina around mid-afternoon. The Star-News of Wilmington later reports that the storm washes away large sand dunes on Oak Island near Southport, which was pounded by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The hurricane brings more than 15 inches of rainfall to parts of North Carolina, where ground is already saturated from earlier heavy rains. Many of the state’s rivers and creeks quickly flood.

Many of North Carolina’s river towns and cities are underwater. In Fayetteville, police perform dramatic rescues of residents trapped by rapid flooding of the Cape Fear River. Windsor, a small town near the Virginia border in northeastern North Carolina, goes underwater for the second time in about two weeks when the Cashie River floods.


Flooding also is reported from the Neuse River in Kinston. Storm surge flooding covers portions of North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks.

In downtown Wilmington, Water Street—which runs parallel to the Cape Fear River—is underwater. Sections of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 are flooded, isolating the eastern part of the state.

The Star-News of Wilmington later reports that seven “hurricane babies” are born at New Hanover Regional Medical Center as Hurricane Matthew’s eye passes the city.

The Associated Press reports that rescuers in Wilson, North Carolina rescue a woman who’d clung to a tree for three hours after floodwaters swept her car into a canal.

Hip-deep flooding is reported in some areas of Norfolk, Virginia.

The News and Observer of Raleigh reports that the chartered flight of the East Carolina University football team, returning from a game against the University of South Florida in Tampa, cannot land in Greenville, North Carolina, where East Carolina is located. The team’s flight is diverted to Richmond, Virginia. From there, the team boards a bus to travel back to North Carolina, but is delayed by flooding on I-95.

Sunday, October 9

This photo by NASA shows floodwaters pouring from rivers in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The floodwater can be identified by the dark sediment as it enters the Atlantic Ocean.

The Star-News of Wilmington reports that residents of Oak Island, North Carolina discover a makeshift raft washed up on the beach of the island. The Star-News says the raft is made of wood, plastic foam and other materials and appears to be the type used by Cuban refugees attempting to come to the US.

The National Hurricane Center says the center of Matthew, now a post-tropical storm, is about 100 miles east of Cape Hatteras and moving away from the US East Coast.

The Associated Press reports that a US Coast Guard helicopter from Elizabeth City has rescued eight people from rooftops in the small town of Pinetops, southeast of Rocky Mount.

Monday, October 10

In South Carolina, residents of the small town of Nichols near the North Carolina border are surprised by rapid flooding of the Lumber River. The State of Columbia reports that dozens of residents could only grab what possessions they could and flee to higher ground.

The New York Times reports that several rivers in eastern North Carolina are at flood stage and about 1,500 people are stranded by the floodwaters. Some rivers reach record heights, the Times says. The Cape Fear River south of Fayetteville is 26 feet above flood stage, and the Neuse River is about eight feet above flood stage and still rising.

The Lumber River and the Little River both are higher than ever recorded. In Moore County, North Carolina (about 130 miles inland) some residents leave their homes when an earthen dam begins to fail.

On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, storm surge from the Pamlico Sound chews away several more graves in a 144-year-old cemetery in the village of Salvo on Hatteras Island. The cemetery already had lost about half of its original 1872 plot to the sound.

As search and rescue efforts continue in Haiti, Reuters estimates that more than 1,000 people were killed there by Hurricane Matthew, and the United Nations reports that 90 percent of Haiti’s crops were destroyed in some areas by the hurricane. Health officials fear an outbreak of cholera because of the absence of clean drinking water. The BBC reports that in some areas in southern Haiti are “90 percent destroyed.”

Tuesday, October 12

[Image of areas affected by tropical storm and hurricane force winds]
NOAA illustration shows Hurricane Matthew’s deadly trek from the Caribbean Sea to Cape Hatteras.
The Associated Press reports that Goldman Sachs estimates that Hurricane Matthew caused about $10 billion in damages in the US.

The Star-News of Wilmington reports that evacuations are ordered in Pender County in southeastern North Carolina along the Black River, which is still rising rapidly.

The News and Observer of Raleigh reports that around 200 people in Goldsboro, North Carolina are stranded by floodwaters from the Neuse River. The Neuse is now almost 30 feet above flood stage.

Officials calculate the US death toll from Hurricane Matthew at 39, with 20 of those fatalities in North Carolina.

NBC News reports that record flooding is moving down the Neuse and Tar rivers in North Carolina.

The Associated Press reports that officials in Greenville, North Carolina expect all of the bridges across the Tar River will be overwhelmed by floodwaters. NBC News reports that about 9,000 of the city’s 91,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate.

Meteorologist Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, who has been broadcasting live from North Carolina, is surprised that so many people seem to think that Hurricane Matthew was not a severe storm. “I’m shocked at the number of people saying to me: ‘they are glad the storm wasn’t that bad,’ “ Cantore says on Twitter. “How are they missing the historic NC flood!?!”

Popular Science magazine reports that Hurricane Matthew “was curiously underrated.”

“While Matthew didn’t produce many iconic scenes of palm trees felled by high-speed winds,” Popular Science says, “it proved immensely destructive, robbing people of their lives and homes.”

Listen to author Willie Drye discuss his IPPY Award-winning book, For Sale-American Paradise, with host Frank Stasio on WUNC radio’s “The State of Things,” and with Joseph Cooper on WLRN’s “Topical Currents.” Follow him on Facebook.

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Meet the Author

Willie Drye
Willie Drye is an award-winning author and a contributing editor for National Geographic News. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina.