HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut/AP) – Hurricane Matthew is expected to turn eastward and head out to sea after punishing Florida to North Carolina with strong winds and flooding, sparing drought-stricken New England from potentially dangerous weather but also some much-needed rainfall this weekend, forecasters said Wednesday.
The projected storm track changed within a 24-hour span, with the latest forecast calling for a high pressure system over New England to cause the storm to stay to the east, said Margaret Curtis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.
“The most likely scenario is that it passes to the east, but we’ll have our eyes on it,” Curtis said. “It’s definitely been a nail-biter.”
It was a different story down South, where the National Hurricane Center extended a hurricane warning northward in Florida as Matthew headed toward the East Coast. The storm pounded the Bahamas on Wednesday, a day after sweeping across a remote part of Haiti.
People boarded up beach homes, schools closed and officials ordered large-scale evacuations along the East Coast on Wednesday as Matthew tore through the Bahamas and took aim at Florida, where the governor warned the state could be facing its “biggest evacuation ever.”
Gov. Rick Scott said he didn’t know how many people would be ordered to leave the coastline because it is left up to individual counties. So far, only Brevard and Martin counties have issued mandatory evacuation orders.
“When you look at this storm as it goes along the East Coast, we’re going to have to prepare every county, so it could be the biggest evacuation ever. Every county is focused on it though. We’ve been working on it even before today,” Scott said.
The New England forecast is good news for people with outdoor plans this weekend but bad news for farmers with dry fields and homeowners with yellowing lawns.
While no one wants dangerous winds or surf, the region badly needs rain as extreme or severe drought conditions stretch across parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Across the region, some residents have been struggling with wells that have dried up, and some farmers are reporting lower yields.
Declining groundwater tables in southern Maine prompted the Poland Spring bottling company to significantly limit the amount of water it pumps out of one of its largest aquifers in Hollis. Other sites were less affected by the dry weather.
The entire region is parched.
Southernmost York County in Maine is about 17 inches below normal for rainfall this year, and groundwater levels at a U.S. Geological Survey monitoring well in Sanford in June, July and August were the lowest in several decades.
In Maine, the state’s drought task force will meet Thursday. In the meantime, state officials were still watching the hurricane track.
“At this point, we’re not ready to put up our feet and relax,” said Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA deployed personnel to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. It’s also positioning commodities and other supplies at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and in Albany, Georgia.
Government officials are worried about complacency, especially in South Florida, which hasn’t seen a major hurricane — a Category 3 or higher — in 11 years.
Hurricane Hermine hit the eastern Panhandle on Sept. 2 as a Category 1 storm, causing one death, storm surge damage to beachfront homes and downed trees and powerlines. That was the first hurricane to strike Florida since Wilma — a Category 3 — slammed into the coast in 2005. The 11-year lull between Hermine and Wilma was the longest on record for Florida.
Governors in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina declared states of emergency.
The last major storm to reach Connecticut was the remains of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlanta hurricane season. Dianna Parker, a spokeswoman at NOAA’s marine debris program, said much of what was tossed into marshes and coastline areas by the October 2012 storm included construction debris, docks, decks, furniture, lumber and boat remains.