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Hurricane Matthew officially deadliest Atlantic storm in more than a decade

Holly Bunting, with Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, throws wood onto a pile  in Nichols, S.C., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Mike Spencer / Associated Press)
Holly Bunting, with Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, throws wood onto a pile in Nichols, S.C., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Mike Spencer / Associated Press)
Tribune News Service

MIAMI – Hurricane Matthew will officially go down as the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in more than a decade.

The fierce Category 5 storm plowed across the Caribbean and up the Florida coast for 11 days last fall, and was blamed for killing 585 people directly and another 13 people indirectly. In Haiti, where most of the fatalities occurred, another 128 people are still missing. Altogether, more than 3.7 million people fled their homes, with most on the southeast coast of the U.S.

In its official report issued Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center also assessed its own performance, giving itself good marks for tracking the storm’s path, but not so great for predicting intensity.

Matthew formed off St. Lucia as a tropical storm Sept. 28 in a year that marked a major milestone: Florida’s first hurricane strike in 11 years by an earlier, weaker storm, Hermine. Matthew scooted up the coast of Florida for a day and a half, ultimately making landfall near Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Models used to determine the short-term track did better than the previous five-year average predicting Matthew as it veered closer, to between 12 hours and 24 hours out. But between three and five days, another internal model did worse, with forecasters warning that the storm could strike anywhere from northern Miami-Dade County to Daytona Beach.

Tracking intensity, which has improved dramatically in recent years with bigger and faster computers, also failed to pick up on the tricky storm’s intensity. All performed below the five-year average.

Significantly, the early forecast missed Matthew’s rapid intensification between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, when sustained wind speeds reached nearly 167 mph. However, once the storm intensified, the models fared better, the report said.

The good news? The world has heard the last from Matthew. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization, which names storms, retired the name, along with Otto, replacing them with Martin and Owen.

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