Jamaica-bound Hurricane Matthew is Now a Record-Breaking Category 5

Image: NOAA

After a rare period of extremely rapid intensification, the National Hurricane Center has upgraded Hurricane Matthew to a Category 5—the top level of the Saffir-Simpson scale. Data from what was surely a harrowing Hurricane Hunter flight on Friday evening confirmed that Matthew now has sustained winds of approximately 160 miles per hour.

From the National Hurricane Center’s description of a Category 5 hurricane:

Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Matthew is on a course to make landfall in Jamaica on Sunday evening or early Monday morning, and its strengthening on Friday has greatly increased the risk for the island nation. The latest National Hurricane Center forecast shows Matthew will likely be around Category 4 strength when it makes its closes approach, and could pose a dire threat to Haiti and Cuba as well early next week.

As I wrote earlier Friday, at its current strength, Matthew would be Jamaica’s most intense hurricane strike in history—topping Hurricane Gilbert (1988), which caused devastating damage. That statement is now even more true.

Should Matthew stay on its current projected path, it would be a near-worst case scenario for Jamaica. No hurricane as strong as Matthew has ever made landfall in Jamaica in recorded history.

Also on Friday evening, Matthew became just the seventh hurricane in Atlantic basin weather history to strengthen at least 80 miles per hour in 24 hours or less. That historical record dates to 1851, and four of those hurricanes, including Matthew, have come since 2005. In addition to this record, Matthew is now the southernmost Category 5 hurricane in Atlantic basin history, and the closest ever to come to South America.

Hurricane Matthew from space, at Category 5 strength. Image: NASA/GOES