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Hurricane Matthew, a major Category 4 storm, gained strength Friday over central Caribbean waters and is forecast to turn north over Jamaica and eastern Cuba in the next few days.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reported on Saturday that Matthew had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, making it the most powerful storm in the Caribbean since Wilma in 2005.
"Hurricane Matthew put on an impressive and unexpected display of rapid intensification overnight, becoming the Caribbean's first major hurricane since Sandy of 2012," according to Jeff Masters, director of Meteorology at the Weather Underground blog.
"Water temperatures are unusually warm throughout the Caribbean," the blog. Hurricanes gain their energy from water vapor evaporating from a warm ocean surface.
The track over the next few days appears likely to take the storm slightly to the east of the Florida coast, but the National Hurricane Center warned its forecasts can be off by around 175 miles looking ahead four days and 230 miles at day five. "Therefore, it is too soon to rule out possible hurricane impacts from Matthew in Florida," the NHC said.
The center of Matthew was about 400 miles south-east of Jamaica on Saturday morning. The hurricane was moving west-southwest at 7 mph.
Forecasters say Matthew is expected to turn toward the west-northwest by Saturday night. The storm is then expected to further turn toward the northwest by early Sunday while churning across the central Caribbean.
"A major hurricane striking Jamaica from the south would be a virtually unprecented event," according to Masters. Sandy struck eastern Jamaica at Category 2 strength. causing $100 million in damage and knocked out power to most of the island. Matthew could be much stronger than Sandy, and could bring a severe storm surge into the capital, Kingston, on the south coast.
Matthew’s anticipated landfall over Jamaica and Cuba on Monday will weaken the storm, due to the high mountains in its path.
It could re-intensify "over the exceptionally warm waters surrounding The Bahamas," bringing it "perilously close" to South Florida by Thursday.