A potentially devastating Hurricane Matthew threatened Cuba, Jamaica and portions of Haiti on Sunday afternoon, pummeling the Caribbean with the possibility of affecting South Florida.
Matthew weakened slightly to Category 4 on Saturday. On Sunday, the storm had winds measuring 140 mph as it slowly moved to the northwest, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is forecasted to move across southwestern Haiti as a major hurricane on Monday before reaching Cuba.
Forecasters were less confident about its movement beyond Tuesday, so Florida is not yet in the clear. The forecast track shifted to the east Saturday evening, but the five-day forecast released Sunday afternoon still included a portion of the state's east coast.
"The message we have for people in Florida is just closely monitor Matthew," said John Cangilosi, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "We can't rule out any significant impacts just yet but the indications at this point are that the center of it will move to the east."
Gov. Rick Scott urged Floridians not to let down their guard.
"We haven't seen a storm of this magnitude approach our state in a very long time," Scott said in a statement. "We know how fast the track of a storm can change, and I urge everyone in Florida to prepare this weekend for any impacts this storm may bring. Even if it does not directly hit our state, we will likely see strong winds, rip currents and beach erosion all along the east coast of our state."
A hurricane warning covers all of Jamaica, Cuba and the Haitian coast from the southern border with the Dominican Republic to the city of Mole-Saint-Nicolas.
Jamaica and parts of Haiti could be hit with as much as 25 inches of rain, causing life-threatening flash flooding and mud slides, the hurricane center predicted.
High surf began pounding the Jamaican coast Saturday, and flooding temporarily closed the road linking the capital to its airport. Carl Ferguson, head of the marine police, said people were starting to heed calls to relocate from small islands and areas near rural waterways.
Matthew also threatens Cuba and parts of the Bahamas. The commander of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay on Saturday ordered the evacuation of families and other nonessential personnel from the outpost in southeast Cuba because of Matthew's approach.
On Saturday, WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Kate Wentzel said if the forecast holds, Tampa Bay can expect some increased gusty winds, but nothing too strong, and there also could be some stray showers from the storm's outer bands.
"If it stays on this track we'll be on the dry side of the storm as it moves up the east coast of Florida, but we'll definitely see increased wind starting Wednesday and into Thursday," Wentzel said.
Information from the Miami Herald and Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.