Matthew's wrath continues with storm surge flooding

Eye of Hurricane Matthew moving due north toward South Carolina coast

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Arriving right on schedule Friday afternoon, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on northeast Florida, devastating area beaches, downing hundreds of trees and knocking out power for a quarter-million people.

But even as the eye of the storm moved north toward the South Carolina coast about 2 a.m. Saturday, storm surge flooding continues in Florida and Georgia. 

The eye passed only 40 miles offshore of St. Augustine about 4 p.m. and Jacksonville Beach two hours later. Had this 700-mile wide storm had tracked just one county farther west, then the destructive eyewall would have ravaged coastal communities with catastrophic wind. Instead, wind gusts have been “only” in the 60-80 mph range, with some high gusts. That’s how close a call this was. There was no margin for error.

At 2 a.m. Saturday, the National Weather Center reported that Matthew was about 45 miles south of Hilton Head, South Carolina with sustained winds of 105 mph. The Category 2 hurricane is moving due north at about 12 mph, and this motion should continue overnight.  

The bad news is that Matthew (though a weaker storm) could touch the coast near Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday morning.

FORECAST IMAGES: Matthew crawls up East Coast

A hurricane warning is still in effect north of Fernandina Beach, Florida, to Surf City, North Carolina.

The combination of a dangerous storm surge, the tide, and large and destructive waves will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. The water could reach 6 to 9 feet above ground from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, to Edisto Beach, South Carolina, if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide.

IMAGES: Slideshow | uShare/StormPins

But we’re still dealing with significant impacts this evening, and severe wind gusts have caused a lot of damage. But, as you know, water is a hurricane’s greatest punch, and we’ve had plenty of it, both from storm surge, and from the sheer amount of rain that has fallen. 

Record-breaking rainfall

Some 24-hour rain totals as of 5 p.m. Heaviest totals, as expected, were closer to the coast, with diminishing amounts the farther west you are:

  • Jacksonville International Airport:  6.17” (breaks a record set in 1996 -- also during a tropical event)
  • Reporting station in Mandarin, just across the river from NAS Jacksonville:  6.03”
  • Jacksonville Craig  5.66”
  • Orange Park:  5.53”
  • Fruit Cove:  5.27”
  • NAS Jacksonville: 5.10”
  • St. Augustine:  4.91”
  • Jacksonville Beach 4.74”
  • Keystone Heights:  4.22”
  • Palatka:  4.15”
  • St. Simon’s Island:  4.09”
  • St. Marys River at I-95:  4.07”
  • Brunswick:  3.95”
  • Sapelo Island:  3.16”
  • St. Mary’s River at Ferry Landing:  1.90”
  • Gainsville:  1.15”
  • Olustee:  1.12”
  • Lake City:  0.59”

Storm surge caused big problems in some areas, and a Flash Flood Emergency was issued mid-afternoon for Egans Creek on Amelia Island as a major surge of water was moving down the creek. The warning was set to expire at 6:15 p.m., but was just extended to 9:45 p.m.  Winds are switching to the northwest, and additional storm surge is going to be pushed down the creek.

Persons remaining near the Green Way from Atlantic Blvd, State Road 200 South to Simmons Road need to seek high ground immediately, as do those on or near Jean Lafitte Boulevard, Blackbeard Place, Starboard Landing, Portside Drive, Crosswinds Drive North and South, Sea Grove Lane, Sadler Road Near Egans Creek, High Rigger Road, Robert Oliver Avenue, Ocean Ridge Drive, and Amelia Terrace Court.

In Fernandina Beach, the tidal gauge reported a peak water level of 6.91 feet above NAVD88 datum.  This was 4.32 feet above the predicted high tide of 2.59 feet NAVD88 datum, and ranks as the third-highest water level ever recorded there, behind the October 2nd, 1898, and October 19th, 1944, hurricanes, and ahead of Hurricanes Dora and Jeanne.

Conditions will gradually improve from south to north tonight.  For example Flagler and St. Johns Counties have already seen the worst, while those in Glynn County will be the last to see things settle down.

Hats off to our first responders, and those at JEA who are working so hard to try and restore power. You men and women have earned our deepest gratitude for all you do, and especially what you’ll be doing the rest of tonight and in the coming days.

About the Authors:

Our chief meteorologist lives and breathes the weather on the First Coast.