Hurricane Matthew to cause dangerous conditions along southeastern US coast

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Seas and surf will build to dangerous and damaging levels along the southeastern United States coast later this week, when powerful Hurricane Matthew is forecast to take a northwestward turn.

Matthew is likely to remain a hurricane and a threat to lives and property well beyond the Caribbean.

RELATED: Photos of Hurricane Matthew

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CARIBBEAN SEA - OCTOBER 1: In this NOAA handout image, taken by the GOES satellite at UTC: 1447Z shows Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean Sea just south of Cuba and Jamacia on October 1, 2016. Matthew is now a strong Category 4 hurricane, in the central Caribbean Sea after weakening from a Category 5 overnight. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
A man collects plastic and glass bottles in the canal of Portail Leogane, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Part of a street is reflected in a puddle near the canal of Portail Leogane, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A small market is reflected in a puddle near the canal of Portail Leogane, in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman sells sandals in a street near the canal of Portail Leogane in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on October 1, 2016. As Hurricane Matthew threatens the Caribbean on Sunday, Haitians worry about flooding of the canal due to the accumulation of garbages. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A man repairs a bicycle in the Champ de Mars Square in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, on October 1, 2016. Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade, churned towards Jamaica and Haiti Saturday on a path that forecasters said could eventually take it to the eastern United States. / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Jamaicans stand next to shopping carts filled with bottled water and other items outside a supermarket, pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Jamaicans check flashlights at a supermarket pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Jamaicans flock to the supermarkets to take care of last minute shopping pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Jamaicans flock to the supermarkets to take care of last minute shopping pending the arrival of Hurricane Matthew in Kingston, Jamaica, September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy
Tropical Storm Matthew, which has since gained hurricane strength, is seen in an image captured by NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite at 1pm ET (17:00 GMT) September 29, 2016. NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
SALINA, CURACAO -  SEPTEMBER 29: Flooded area is seen after the Matthew hurricane in Salina, Curacao on September 29, 2016. In Salina, which is one of the wellknown centre in Curacao, hurricane Matthew caused flood. The storm, which became hurricane category one, will past 230 km away from Curacao.  (Photo by Paco Nunez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SALINA, CURACAO -  SEPTEMBER 29: Flooded area is seen after the Matthew hurricane in Salina, Curacao on September 29, 2016. In Salina, which is one of the wellknown centre in Curacao, hurricane Matthew caused flood. The storm, which became hurricane category one, will past 230 km away from Curacao.  (Photo by Paco Nunez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Waves are seen as Hurricane Matthew approaches, in Kingston, Jamaica October 2, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero
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After weaving through the large islands of the Caribbean into Wednesday, Matthew will likely take a more northwestward path across the Bahamas from Wednesday into Friday.

"Large swells will propagate outward from the hurricane and will reach the coastline from eastern Florida to North Carolina in the form of building surf and increasing rip currents," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

RELATED: Hurricane Matthew tracker

Since Matthew will be moving along rather slowly into Friday, the long-duration pounding of the surf can lead to significant beach erosion and disruptions to beach and boating activities for days, rather than hours, along the United States Atlantic coast.

The building surf will make for dangerous conditions for swimmers and surfers, while building seas will be of increasing concern for small craft, as well as cruise, fishing and freight interests.

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How serious the wave action becomes, along with the risk of damaging winds, coastal flooding and excessive rainfall this weekend and into next week will depend on Hurricane Matthew's future path.

Offshore, seas will build to monstrous levels. Waves heights in the open Atlantic, north of the Bahamas can top 25 feet.

In addition to dangerous surf, tropical storm to hurricane force conditions may brush the eastern coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in eastern and central North Carolina in anticipation of Matthew. The state of emergency was issued to facilitate the movement of any resources that may be needed to respond to the storm, officials said.

"While we do not yet know how Hurricane Matthew will impact North Carolina, we do know that we can expect some form of impacts on our state," said Gov. McCrory. "We are taking this storm seriously, and I encourage residents and visitors do the same."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for every county in the state due to the severity and magnitude of Matthew.

RELATED: Top 5 US cities most vulnerable to hurricanes

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Top 5 US cities most vulnerable to hurricanes
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Top 5 US cities most vulnerable to hurricanes

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 shined the light on how devastating a tropical system can be for the city of New Orleans. Like Tampa, The Big Easy has an 11 percent chance of experiencing the impact of a hurricane in an average year. According to NOAA, a hurricane makes landfall within 50 miles of New Orleans about once every seven to 11 years.

The city has since made drastic improvements to its levee system since Katrina left most of the city under several feet of water. Nevertheless, with more than 50 percent of the city living below sea level and the rapid sinking of marshy coastal land in southeastern Louisiana, New Orleans still remains highly vulnerable to storm surge during a major hurricane.

"The Mississippi River is almost 30 feet above the city level just to put in perspective of how low New Orleans is in terms of elevation," Samuhel said. "The land around New Orleans is sinking, which puts the city in more danger if another major hurricane strike."

(Photo credit: Getty)

4. Tampa, Florida

The western coast of Florida has endured its share of hurricanes, and the city of Tampa is no exception. The Tampa-St. Petersburg area has an 11 percent chance of feeling the impacts of a hurricane in any given year. Tampa, situated on a peninsula lying along Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, is exposed to hurricanes entering the Gulf and systems forming in the Atlantic. Many of the 347,645 people living in the area have homes along the coast, making residents susceptible to storm surge.

"Like Miami, Tampa is a large metropolitan area and the effects of a hurricane would be widespread throughout the city," Samuhel explained. "Because it is located by the shallow Tampa Bay, water piles up into the city, causing very significant storm surge along the coastline."

The city hasn't suffered a direct hit by a strong hurricane since the 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane, the first major hurricane to hit the city, but 68 tropical storms and hurricanes have passed within 60 miles of the city according to Hurricane City. Most recently in 2004, Hurricane Charley caused $16 billion in damages when the Category 4 storm made landfall just south of Tampa.

(Photo credit: Alamy) 

2. Key West, Florida

Key West, like Miami, has a 16 percent chance of being impacted by a hurricane during any Atlantic hurricane season. Known as the Southernmost City in the Continental United States, Key West is directly impacted by a hurricane every 5.96 years, according to Hurricane City.

The Florida Keys are an archipelago of about 1,700 islands spanning 113 miles with Key West located at the southern tip. With the Atlantic Ocean to the south and east and the Gulf of Mexico to the north and west, the coastal town is exposed to all sides to passing hurricanes.

Key West with maximum elevation of 18 feet above sea level makes it susceptible to heavy flooding and storm surge during a hurricane event. Hurricane Wilma in 2004, regarded as the worst storm to hit the area, passed just west of Key West and produced a storm surge of 8 feet leaving 60-70 percent of the island under water.

"Key West has faced several situations in the past where it has been brushed or directly affected by some of the strongest hurricanes to hit the United States. This includes the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which was remembered as one of the most intense U.S. hurricanes based on pressure and maximum wind speeds," Samuhel said. "Because Key West is so far from the mainland, evacuating people can be a difficult challenge during a hurricane event."

(Photo credit: Shutterstock) 

1. Miami, Florida

Miami takes the number one spot on this list with a 16 percent chance of experiencing the impacts of a hurricane in any given year. Based on historical data, on average a hurricane will pass within 50 miles of the Miami metropolitan area every six to eight years. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and a maximum elevation of 42 feet above sea level Miami's geography makes it highly vulnerable to hurricanes.

In addition to this, a majority of the population resides within 20 miles of the coastline increasing the risk of high property damage.

"Miami has a large population density, and as a result, the effects of a major hurricane would be catastrophic to the city," AccuWeather Meteorologist David Samuhel said. "Also, because of its southern location, Miami is probably the largest city on this list to see a Category 4 or 5 hurricane in the future."

Although a major hurricane is long overdue in Miami, the city has dealt with its share of intense hurricanes in the past. The last major hurricane to affect the city was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which packed winds of 165 mph and currently holds the record as the third strongest U.S. landfalling hurricane. Andrew's total damage cost was $26.5 billion as communities in the surrounding areas were severely affected due to its intense winds and high storm surge.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock) 

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Possible paths Hurricane Matthew may take this weekend into next week

The movement and strength of multiple non-tropical weather systems will influence the path of Matthew beyond Friday, Kottlowski stated.

Even minor fluctuations in the strength and position of these non-tropical systems can have a major impact on the path of Matthew, once the system reaches northern latitudes.

"Options range from a continued northwest movement with landfall in the Carolinas to a northward turn along the Atlantic Seaboard to a curve out to sea this weekend into next week," Kottlowski said.

In the landfall scenario, coastal and inland flooding would occur, along with damaging winds near and east of the center of the storm initially.

Even if Matthew turns out to sea, it may be temporary and the hurricane may have to be dealt with once again somewhere along the Atlantic coast.

"An offshore path that parallels the U.S. Atlantic coast could still lead to heavy rain in the mid-Atlantic and New England, if a non-tropical storm system interacts with Matthew," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity.

The forward speed of a hurricane that parallels the coast can rapidly increase as it moves northward this time of the year.

All interests along the Atlantic coast of the U.S., as well as the Maritime Provinces of Canada and Bermuda should closely monitor the progression of this very dangerous hurricane.

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