More water than wind, but Matthew left its mark

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Hurricane Matthew weakened as it marched up the Southeast coast of the United States and stayed just far enough offshore to spare an estimated 2 million people catastrophic damage from winds that early in its 11-day run as a hurricane reached 160 mph.

The hurricane pushed this sailboat aground on the St. Johns River in Florida.

“We’re blessed that Hurricane Matthew stayed off the coast,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in Jacksonville after surveying damage. Still, the hurricane took at least 38 lives in the United States — 19 in North Carolina, 12 in Florida, three in South Carolina, three in Georgia and one in Virginia.

Matthew finally made landfall Oct. 9 at McClellanville, South Carolina, as a 75-mph Category 1 hurricane, its power sapped by 30- to 40-knot wind shear, dry air and lower ocean temperatures north of Florida. Along the way to landfall, its sustained winds landside along the U.S. coast seldom exceeded hurricane strength (74 mph), but its gusts took it well into that territory: Cape Canaveral, Florida, 107 mph; Tybee Island, Georgia, 96; Daytona Beach, Florida, 91; Hilton Head, South Carolina, 88; and Jacksonville, 87.

As predicted, Matthew’s storm surge and inland flooding proved a greater danger to the United States than its winds. As the storm grazed the east coast of Florida as a Category 3 hurricane, its tropical-storm winds extended 185 miles from its center, piling up water against the curving coastline running from north Florida to South Carolina.

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina reported record and near-record tides, and extensive beach erosion and coastal damage as the surge rushed in on high tides. Historic St. Augustine’s downtown was inundated with several feet of water, which poured over the seawall next to the 17th century Castillo de San Marcos.

As a weakening Category 1, Matthew approached the south coast of North Carolina, combining with record atmospheric moisture to dump record rainfall in the Carolinas, Georgia and as far north as Virginia, spawning widespread flooding. Phil Klotzbach, the Colorado State University hurricane forecaster, rated Matthew a high achiever among Atlantic hurricanes:

• for strengthening 80 mph in 24 hours, third-fastest in the Atlantic behind Wilma in 2005 and Felix in 2007

• for maintaining Category 4 or 5 strength for 102 hours, the longest such stretch on record in October in the Atlantic

• for its landfall near Myrtle Beach as the first hurricane to strike the U.S. Atlantic coast north of Georgia in October since Hazel in 1954

It was too soon to determine how much of an impact the flooding and hurricane had on boats and marinas, but the transient slip website Dockwa began compiling real-time crowdsourced data on the status of marinas in northern Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Based on the site’s findings, some of the most widespread damage to boats and marinas was in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Hilton Head, Beaufort and St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Those areas seemed to have several marinas listed as destroyed or damaged, and many remained closed as of Oct. 13, according to the site. The Southport City Free Dock in North Carolina also was severely damaged.

“The Municipal Marina sustained quite a lot of damage,” operators of the St. Augustine Municipal Marina said on the Dockwa website. “We are closed for now. I expect to have a rolling reopening as repairs are made. We are completing inspections on the docks. … It will be some time before we can make inspections on the moorings.”

“Marina open to boat owners only to assess damages,” said the listing for Conch House Marina Resort in St. Augustine. “Parts of the marina are destroyed and others not usable. Restoration status unknown at this time.”

Matthew sank four boats at Seven Seas Marina in Port Orange, Florida, and obliterated its docks. “I knew it was going to be bad,” general manager Michael Hutton told WFTV9. “I just didn’t realize it was going to be to this extent.”

Reagan Haynes contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.