Hurricane Matthew forming in the Caribbean sea. Image: NOAA

An ugly, dangerous storm is brewing out there. After a bout of rapid intensification last night, Hurricane Matthew has now achieved Category 3 status, packing 120 mph winds. It’s first major Caribbean hurricane since Sandy, and the strongest to develop in this particular region since 2008.

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According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm is expected to maintain its strength and possibly intensify further through the weekend as it rumbles toward Jamaica, reaching Hispaniola and eastern Cuba by early next week. Matthew currently sits a little over 400 miles southeast of Kingston and just 85 miles north of Colombia, where a tropical storm warning is in effect.

A hurricane watch may be issued for Jamaica as early as later today.

Image: NHS

Where exactly the storm is headed next, and whether the US will see any impacts, is not yet clear. There’s a decent chance Matthew could pass Florida to the east. Or it hit the peninsula dead on, or track west into the Gulf of Mexico.

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Hurricane Matthew has meteorologists all in a tizzy on social media, remarking on its impressive strength and sudden, dramatic intensification. You can be sure they’ll be paying close attention to the storm’s development throughout the weekend, and if you live in a potentially affected area, you should, too.

Update 4:19 PM: Meteorologists are speculating that Matthew might have already intensified into a Category 4 storm, although we’ll have to wait for the next NWS update to be sure.

Update 5:21 PM: Hurricane Matthew has officially been upgraded to a Category 4 storm.

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Update 8:25 PM: Matthew is now teetering on Category 5 status, according to the latest NWS advisory, which describes the storm as “extremely dangerous” with 150 mph winds. Tropical storm warnings and watches are in effect for portions of Colombia, Venezuela, and Haiti. A hurricane watch is in effect for Jamaica, with rainfall totals of 10 to 15 inches expected across the nation.

[Associated Press, Capital Weather Gang]