Parts of the east coast of Florida are now under a hurricane warning as Hurricane Matthew's projected path continues to show the monster storm heading toward the Sunshine State.
The Category 3 storm was expected to move parallel to Florida's eastern coast Thursday into Friday morning, producing at least tropical storm conditions for Brevard County and neighboring counties.
At 11 p.m. Thursday, the National Hurricane Center reported that Matthew had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph and was moving northwest at 10 mph. The storm was about 125 miles south-southeast of Nassau, Bahamas, and roughly 325 miles southeast of West Palm Beach. Strong winds and heavy rains are spreading over the Bahamas.
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Hurricane warnings are now in effect for the Florida coast from north of Golden Beach to Sebastian Inlet and Lake Okeechobee. Brevard County continues to be under a hurricane watch.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for Polk and Highlands County.
Hurricane conditions are expected within the hurricane warning area in Florida by late Thursday, with tropical storm conditions expected by early Thursday.
A mandatory evacuation of Brevard County's barrier island began at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker announced on her city Facebook page.
The evacuation also includes Merritt Island, low-lying flood-prone areas, and mobile or manufactured homes, said Don Walker, county spokesman.
"Shelters will open at 4 p.m. at sites to be determined. We will announce that early tomorrow," Walker said.
Because the storm is forecast to closely parallel the shore even small shifts in the storm track can have big consequences, said Scott Kelly, National Weather Service meteorologist.
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“The track is taking it up to our proximity,” said John Pendergrast, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
“There will be sustained tropical storm winds, especially along the barrier islands. It looks like it’s going to be a close brush. It looks like it will be a category 3 but the intensity could change,” said Pendergrast, adding that the storm continues to remain unpredictable.
The hurricane has shifted to the west, bringing its projected path closer to Florida. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for all counties in Florida and said residents should be prepared for the storm's possible arrival.
Already, the county has been lashed with ground-saturating rains over the last few weeks.
Other potential issues facing the county in the event Hurricane Matthew hugs the shoreline include beach erosion and damage to infrastructures such as sewage lift stations and roadways. Weather officials also added that Tropical Storm Nicole has also formed in the Atlantic, the 14th named storm of an already busy hurricane season.
Walker said residents should by now have water, food, medicine and other supplies stocked. Sandbags were also being made available for residents living in low-lying areas. Flashlights, batteries should also be on hand has power outages may also be a major issue to deal in the aftermath of any storm, officials point out. Several cities, such as Palm Bay, are gathering discussing hurricane response plans. The city of Cocoa Beach has also issued a state of emergency proclamation.
Patrick Air Force Base was at HURCON 4 Tuesday, meaning winds in excess of 45 miles per hour were expected within 96 hours. HURCON is used to communicate the time frame for hurricane and tropical storm impacts, with HURCON 5 meaning that hurricane season is underway and HURCON 1 meaning winds of 45 miles per hour or more are expected to reach the base within 24 hours.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale rates hurricanes on 1 to 5 rating based on the maximum sustained wind speed, according to the National Hurricane Center. Major hurricanes are those with wind speeds 111 mph or greater. The scale:
- Category 1: 74-95 mph
- Category 2: 96-110 mph
- Category 3: 111-129 mph
- Category 4: 130-156 mph
- Category 5: 157 mph+
Elliott Jones of TCPalm contributed to this report.