The first clue that the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season would be an active one came in January, when Alex, a Category 1 hurricane, arrived six months before the season’s official June 1st start date. Since then, there have been 13 named storms and three hurricanes. However, none have been as devastating as Hurricane Matthew, which has left a trail of destruction all the way from Haiti to North Carolina.
Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since 2007, began as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on September 22. Within six days, it had intensified to a strong tropical storm and by September 30, escalated to a highly destructive hurricane. While Jamaica, which was along the storm’s path managed to escape with minimal damage, Haiti was not as fortunate.
The hurricane slammed the Caribbean country with full force, causing over a billion dollars in damages and claiming almost a thousand lives. Matthew then continued to the eastern tip of Cuba where it reduced much of the coastal town of Baracoa to rubble. Fortunately, the town had been evacuated well in advance and no lives were lost.
Though the hurricane did lose some of its energy following the two landfalls, it managed to rebuild to Category 4 intensity by the time it reached the Bahamas, on October 6. The powerful storm’s biggest impact was felt on the New Providence and Grand Bahama Islands, where it took down many buildings, utility poles, and trees. Again, thanks to careful planning, no human casualties were reported.
The residents of Florida braced for the worst as the destructive storm headed their way on October 7. While Matthew did not make landfall as had been expected and was even downgraded to Category 2 by the evening, it caused massive flooding and widespread power failures in Jacksonville, Merritt Island, Fleming Island, and many other Florida communities. On October 8, Matthew turned its attention to Georgia and South Carolina, where it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, leaving streets and homes flooded and hundreds of thousands of residents without power.
Though the hurricane was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it hit North Carolina and Virginia on Sunday, October 9, it still packed a powerful punch. The torrential rains have resulted in record-breaking flooding in parts of eastern North Carolina and millions of residents still remain without power. While Matthew has finally returned to the Atlantic Ocean, it did claim 19 lives in the United States. The only silver lining is that the weather in the affected states is expected to be dry for the next week, allowing residents and officials to clean up the mess left behind by the powerful hurricane.