Hurricane Matthew’s close-but-not-quite-direct-hit path along the Florida and Georgia coasts skirted the difference between disaster and catastrophe, meteorologists said.
Even though Matthew eventually made landfall in South Carolina as a minimal hurricane Saturday, the path it took in the days before was a stroke of luck for the United States that meteorologists will spend years trying to understand and explain.
Here are some questions and answers about Matthew’s path that one meteorologist likened to threading a needle:
Q: How close a call was it for Florida and Georgia?
A: Just a 50 mile shift to the west, or even 20 or 30 miles, during the time it glided north along the coastline meant the difference between a storm that now looks like it will end up causing several billion dollars in damage and one costing $50 billion, said both Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach and former hurricane hunter meteorologist Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private Weather Underground.
“People got incredibly lucky,” Klotzbach said. “It was a super close call.”
“Thankfully it was a tight enough storm that 50 miles made a pretty big difference from a wind perspective,” Klotzbach said.
Mark Bove, a meteorologist for the insurance giant Munch Re, said “if this went in as a Category 3 or 4 into Florida it would have been significantly worse.”
Still, the storm surge was bad, especially in Jacksonville, Klotzbach said.
And as lucky as the track was for the United States, it was unlucky for Haiti and the Bahamas, Klotzbach pointed out.
“It maximized the damage in the Caribbean and minimized the damage in the U.S.,” Klotzbach said.
Q: Why did it not go into Florida or Georgia?
A: Meteorologists are still trying to figure that out but the best answer may just be dumb luck with maybe an assist from Tropical Storm Nicole. Meteorologists said they will be