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Hurricane Matthew's looping track may result in rare binary

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Friday, October 7, 2016, 6:38 - Something strange is going on in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Matthew is setting up a possible loop-de-loop path, and in the process it could connect up with Hurricane Nicole in a rare binary interaction, known as the Fujiwhara effect. Here's the science behind these phenomena.

This story has been updated, as of Friday afternoon, to reflect the latest forecast tracks for these storms.

RELATED: Hurricane Matthew batters Florida as it chugs up the coast

A rare loop-de-loop track for Matthew?

As of a look at the track of Hurricane Matthew, provided by forecasters with NOAA's National Hurricane Center at 5 p.m. EDT on Friday, this storm is setting up to perform a rare maneuver.

After swinging past Florida and coastal regions of Georgia and the Carolinas, Matthew appears to take looping track, which may bring it around for another hit on the east coast of Florida, sometime next week.

Although Matthew is drawing its strength from the warm ocean waters below, and low wind shear provided conditions where it could grow so strong, so quickly, and maintain its strength up until it reached Florida, what's driving Matthew's path is the conditions far above the surface.

Surface and 250 mb wind fields, as of 2 p.m. EDT, Oct 7, revealing their influence on these Atlantic storms. Image credit: Animation by S. Sutherland

While the hurricanes themselves are the major influences for the wind at the surface, at the top of the troposphere, roughly 10 kilometres up, the winds there are going to control the general path of Matthew and Nicole. As shown in the second panel of the animation above, there is a very strong curved flow to the northeast of Matthew - a jet streak - that is prepared to steer Matthew back out to sea. If this jet streak maintains its position and strength, Matthew will be pulled into that strong flow, and will get caught up in the clockwise rotation of winds just to the south of the jet streak. That will bring it around for another pass next week.

If that jet streak breaks down, or the entrance to the jet streak stays just out of reach of Matthew, the storm could bypass this rotating flow and proceed up the east coast. Given that this track has been supported by multiple computer models, however, that scenario does not seem very likely.

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Not gonna happen now.  Toward end of three-day forecast period Matthew will become subtropical and then be absorbed into a cold front.   While still dangerous now, especially for surge all the way into North Carolina, he'll soon be toast.

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