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Hurricane Matthew Is on the Way
Shocking as it may seem, it's been a decade since Florida was hit with a major hurricane and 12 years since that horrendous spate of storms in 2004. But now Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 monster, is threatening to do major wind, rain and storm surge damage. At risk: virtually the entire state of Florida, coastal Georgia and the Carolinas. Millions are on the move in hopes of avoiding the worst impact. Here's how we've been covering the travel-related developments. As always, the latest item is on top, so read up from the bottom for chronological context.
10/10/16, 9PM ET, MONDAY
TRAVEL? NOT TOO BAD. BUT STILL A STORM OF TRAGIC PROPORTIONS.
Only about 140 flights have been cancelled today as of 9 pm, according to FlightStats.com. That's a solid sign that the system has rebounded smartly from Hurricane Matthew. All told, about 5,000 flights were cancelled from Wednesday through Sunday last week, according to FlightAware.com. The worst day? Friday, when about 2,000 flights were dumped. That's the day some South Florida airports were beginning to reopen, airports further north and the two Orlando airports suffered major cancellations and airports in Georgia and the Carolinas were shutting down.
Needless to say, Matthew wasn't quite as bad a storm for travelers as early predictions suggested. But it's important to remember that travel isn't the only thing that matters. At least 21 people died in the United States and a 1,000 or more people died in Haiti, where hope seems to go to die. We business travelers may have fared well enough, but this was a storm of tragic proportions.
10/7/16, 9:45AM ET, FRIDAY
AIRPORTS IN GEORGIA AND SOUTH CAROLINA ARE CLOSING
While airports in South Florida are struggling back to life with a few flights arriving and departing today, small airports along the Northeast coast of Florida are now locked down. Daytona Beach, Melbourne and St. Augustine won't operate today.
Officials at the airport in Charleston, South Carolina, say the last flights there will be at 1pm. The airport doesn't expect to reopen before Sunday. Savannah/Hilton Head airport in Georgia closed at midnight and won't reopen until Sunday.
Meanwhile, Florida governor Rick Scott says 600,000 people around the state are now without power. And the storm still hasn't made a direct hit.
10/7/16, 8:45AM ET, FRIDAY
SOUTH FLORIDA AIRPORTS REOPEN SOON, BUT NORTHEAST FLORIDA AT RISK
What we know now:
+ Hurricane Matthew is a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 miles per hour. It is moving north at about 13 miles per hour. Hurricane-force winds extend about 50 miles from the eye of the storm. It's just off shore of Central Florida, about 45 miles from Daytona Beach. Gusts above 100 miles per hour have already been recorded at Cape Canaveral.
+ Although Matthew skirted southern Florida, the National Weather Service now predicts extreme storm surges, wind and rain for Northeastern Florida, coastal Georgia and South Carolina. The storm surge in Northeastern Florida is expected to top nine feet and as much as 15 inches of rain may fall in some areas.
+ Storm warnings have been lifted south of Jupiter, Florida.
+ Primary South Florida Airports--Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach International--are open. American Airlines, which hubs at Miami, expects the first flight at 10 am. Fort Lauderdale expects to open at 11am. Palm Beach is expecting its first flights at 1:25pm.
+ Orlando International Airport is open, but there are no flights yet.
+ About 300,000 people are already without power in Florida.
+ According to FlightStats.com, at least 1,125 flights have been cancelled today across the nation. The vast majority are to/from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
+ The storm's toll in the Caribbean has been brutal. At least 300 are dead, but reports from Haiti say perhaps 500 have died there. So prepare for more bad news from the region.
10/6/16, 11:30AM ET, THURSDAY
MATTHEW'S TARGET? WEST PALM BEACH TO THE FLORIDA LINE
What we know now:
+ Matthew has been upgraded to a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. It is moving northwest at 14 miles per hour and continues to batter the Bahamas at this hour.
+ The first parts of the storm are expected to hit the Atlantic Coast of Florida beginning at about 10pm tonight and continuing overnight and through Friday.
+ The storm seems to be headed for landfall somewhere north of Miami, meaning the worst impact will be West Palm Beach north to the Florida-Georgia state line. But areas from Florida to the south will also be hit hard with rain and storm surges.
+ Some predictions for worst-hit areas are nightmarish: Up to a foot of rain. Storm surge of 5-9 feet above sea level.
+ Widespread property damage and sustained water and power outages are predicted, especially along the Atlantic Coast of Florida. "You will lose power," Florida governor Rick Scott said this morning. Worse, he added, "We don't know how long" the power will be out.
+ Most airports along the East Coast of Florida are officially closed, functionally closed because all flights have been cancelled or will close in the next few hours. Inland, Orlando Sanford Airport has closed and Orlando International expects flights to end later this evening.
+ Since this storm looks to be coming in late tonight into tomorrow, do not expect many flights to major airports such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale until Saturday morning. And that will be for inbound flights since airlines have moved many of their aircraft out of the area.
+ Georgia has ordered a mandatory evacuation for coastal areas east of Interstate 95.
+ Late Friday and early Saturday look to be the worst periods for Coastal Georgia and the Carolinas.
For more details on the evacuation situation in Florida, consult http://fl511.com and http://floridaevacuates.com
The Weather Channel is in wraparound coverage and the cable-news outlets are ramping up their coverage now. Weather.gov is the best for county-level forecasts and storm information.
Bottom line: You will not be able to reliably fly into or out of most of Florida anytime over the weekend. And even when you can fly, expect serious road flooding, major property damage and power outages. If you must get to Florida in the next few days, your best airport options are Gulf Coast facilities such as Tampa, Sarasota and Fort Myers. The Florida panhandle looks relatively safe, but flight schedules there are sporadic in the best of times.
10/5/16, 9:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY
FLORIDA AIRPORTS CLOSE AHEAD OF MATTHEW
What we know now:
+ Matthew is a Category 3 storm with winds of 115 miles an hour. It's moving north at 12 miles an hour. That is ever-so-slightly less intense than earlier today.
+ As earlier reported, American Airlines cancelled virtually all flights tomorrow at its huge Miami hub as well as nearby stations in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. But American is also scrubbing the afternoon schedules at Orlando and Jacksonville, too.
+ Delta Air Lines has cancelled at least 120 flights in Florida and the Carolinas tomorrow.
+ FlightAware.com reports that more than 1,200 flights tomorrow have already been cancelled, virtually all of them in Matthew's expected path.
+ Fort Lauderdale airport will close at 10:30 am tomorrow (Thursday). Miami Airport is warning that it does not expect aircraft to operate when winds exceed 35 miles per hour.
+ All of Florida, save the panhandle region, is now under some kind of severe weather watch. That includes counties on the Gulf Coast (western) side of the state.
+ As there are mandatory and voluntary evacuations in effect in Florida, coastal Georgia and the Carolinas, roads are crowded. There are sporadic reports of low gasoline supplies, too. I've done spot checks of some hotels in the Carolinas and the Western part of Florida and there are many sellouts. Prices at the remaining hotels are rising fast, too.
+ Expect many more flight cancellations and announcements of airport closures overnight.
10/5/16, 5PM ET, WEDNESDAY
AMERICAN CANCELS MOST FLORIDA FLIGHTS AS STORM TRACK CHANGES
What we know now about Hurricane Matthew:
+ Matthew is a Category 3 storm with winds of 120 miles an hour. That's exceptionally powerful and dangerous. It's moving north at 12 miles an hour. It is expected to strengthen again tomorrow.
+ The expected track has changed dramatically. The storm is expected to move over the Bahamas and then head directly toward Florida late Thursday into Friday. The current target seems to be around the Space Coast although the eye of the storm may not make landfall. But then the storm will veer abruptly to the east and head out to sea. That means Florida, coastal Georgia and the Carolinas are at risk, but areas to the north--the MidAtlantic and New England--will not be affected.
+ American Airlines has cancelled virtually all flights tomorrow at its huge Miami hub as well as nearby stations in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. There will be some departures before noon on Thursday.
+ All U.S. carriers have issued travel waivers for the Bahamas, Florida and the Carolinas. Details and affected cities vary by airline, so check the specifics carefully.
10/4/16, 5PM ET, TUESDAY
HURRICANE MATTHEW IS ON THE WAY
How will Hurricane Matthew impact your business travel in the days ahead? In a word or two, who knows? The storm is churning in the Caribbean today, battering parts of Cuba and Haiti, and is expected to move up the U.S. East Coast in the next few days.
What we know now:
+ Matthew is a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 miles an hour. That's exceptionally powerful and dangerous. It's moving north at nine miles an hour.
+ All U.S. carriers have issued travel waivers for the Caribbean Islands and the Bahamas.
+ Several U.S. airlines (American, United, JetBlue) have already posted waivers for Florida flights.
+ JetBlue has extended its travel waiver as far north as Charleston, South Carolina.
+ States as far north as North Carolina have declared states of emergency for ocean-facing and water-adjacent counties. Florida governor Rick Scott has widened his declaration to the entire state. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is calling for an evacuation of all coastal counties starting tomorrow afternoon. She wants everyone "at least 100 miles away from the coast."
+ Depending on the storm's track, Matthew could continue up the U.S. East Coast throughout the week and reach as far north as New York and New England by Sunday.
+ Tropical Storm Nicole has formed in the Western Atlantic and may be an issue next week.
If your travel in the next few days takes you into these potentially affected regions, please plan accordingly.
As I always warn, Weather.com and The Weather Channel are gruesomely alarmist because it is good for their ratings. Your best source of information is almost always the National Weather Service (http://www.weather.gov). You can drill down to county-by-county forecasts there, too.
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