No matter how close the center of Hurricane Matthew gets to the U.S., the southeastern coast can expect to feel the effects Thursday through Sunday with fierce winds, driving rain, possible power outages and drenching floods, forecasters say.
Matthew, a Category 3 storm that was moving over the Bahamas on Wednesday with 120-mph winds, is forecast to approach Florida as a stronger Category 4 hurricane with 130-mph winds Thursday. Hurricane watches and warnings are in effect for the entire east coast of Florida.
The worst conditions should be late Thursday and throughout Friday in eastern Florida and Saturday and Sunday in coastal sections of Georgia and the Carolinas.
Even if the center of Matthew does not officially make landfall along the East Coast, the hurricane will still bring hurricane-force winds of up to 100 mph, up to a foot of torrential rain and pounding surf from Florida to the Carolinas.
"Matthew is a serious threat to Florida's east coast, even without a direct landfall," meteorologist Mark Bove of Munich Re said. "Residents should make preparations ASAP."
Matthew could knock out power for approximately 7 million people in the U.S. in a wide swath stretching from Miami to the Carolinas, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Texas A&M University.
Storm surge and battering waves will also lead to coastal flooding and beach erosion along the east coast of Florida north of Palm Beach on Thursday and Friday. The worst floods will be during high tide. Georgia and the Carolinas will also see storm surge flooding by Saturday and Sunday.
An isolated tornado or two could also spin up along the Southeast coast.
The threat for areas north of the Carolinas, including the Northeast, has diminished, the hurricane center said.
It's still possible that Matthew could meander off the Southeast coast or near the Bahamas into early next week, but details on where it may eventually go from there are uncertain at this time, weather.com said.