Will two hurricanes collide? Matthew forecast to loop back and hit Florida — as Nicole races across Atlantic
As if the first major hurricane in years pressing toward the state couldn’t get worse, several projections show Matthew could loop around and strike Florida again next week.
It’s daunting news for a packed east coast bracing for the storm’s inevitable impact, but experts say there’s no need to panic. If the loop-around happens, Matthew will most likely be a shell of its former self, hardly comparable to the double-hitter in 2004 when hurricanes Frances and Jeanne pummeled the Treasure Coast weeks apart from each other.
“Don’t freak out,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground. “It’s going to be a much weaker storm the second time around, and, yeah, it will be a bit of a psychological shock, but the bottom line is the science of it says this second go-around is going to be really no big deal.”
But another system is influencing Matthew.
Hurricane Nicole grew from tropical storm to hurricane Thursday afternoon in the Atlantic. Nicole is pressing Matthew toward Florida. The storms are about 1,000 miles apart and are expected to stay that way, said Rick Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
But Masters said there are models showing the two could get close enough to interact with each other, at which point they would start to rotate around a common centre, making it tough to predict Matthew’s long-range path.
At that point, “all bets are off,” he said.
And what happens if the two collide? Then you have a Fujiwhara Effect, which last time happened in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma melded with Tropical Storm Alpha off the east coast.
The path of Matthew is dictated by steering currents that are part of a high-pressure system over the Atlantic Ocean, called the Bermuda High, Masters said.
The shape and intensity of that system is constantly changing, influenced by storms in the north. In this case, the system is shifting across the east coast, blocking the storm from continuing north.
“It’s the atmosphere in action,” Masters said.
Two early models showed that happening, an illustration that “was worthy of profuse profanity,” Masters wrote Wednesday on his website. Projections as of Thursday afternoon show the storm heading back toward the Bahamas then moving toward South Florida.
The turn south is expected to happen Tuesday off the coast of South Carolina. The same currents that steer the storm are anticipated to weaken it. By the time it comes back, wind speeds will sit at about 40 mph.
Davis and Masters said the less-than-ideal path has happened in the past for the same reasons. Matthew already did it once in the Caribbean, Davis said.
In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne took a loop far off the coast before heading straight into Central Florida. One of the longest-lived hurricanes in history, Ginger, made a giant loop in the Atlantic before chugging into North Carolina.
“It’s not that uncommon,” Davis said.