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Hurricane Matthew to unleash dangerous flooding, damaging winds from Florida to North Carolina

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Hurricane Matthew will close in on the southeastern United States coast through the end of the week, threatening areas with flooding, power outages and damaging winds.

"While the strength of Matthew will fluctuate as it approaches the U.S. coast late this week, it will remain a powerful and dangerous hurricane with threats from storm surge flooding and high winds," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Seas and surf will become dangerous with beach erosion and coastal flooding from Florida to North Carolina.

Small craft should remain secured in port and cruise and freight interests should consider rerouting their trips to avoid the monstrous seas that will develop. Offshore, seas can top 25 feet at the height of the storm.

Airline delays and flight cancellations will mount. Some smaller regional airports may close for a time.

People are encouraged to heed all advisories and evacuation orders where and when they are given.

Residents are rushing to prepare for Matthew as officials warn them to take hurricane warnings seriously. On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in central and eastern North Carolina. He was later joined by Florida Gov. Rick Scott who issued a statewide state of emergency. Both governors also activated portions of their National Guard.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuation of more than one million people from coastal areas along the state, while Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 13 counties.

Hurricane-force winds, flooding to lash Florida's Atlantic coast

"Matthew will track very close to the east coast of Florida from late Thursday through Friday," Kottlowski said.

There is a chance the eye brushes the coast, since it will be paralleling Florida, while moving northwestward.

"Even if the eye of Hurricane Matthew remains offshore, gusts to hurricane force can occur along the immediate Atlantic coast along with storm surge flooding," Kottlowski said.

Areas of the immediate Florida coast at greatest risk for hurricane-force winds will extend from near West Palm Beach to Jacksonville.

These same areas will also be at risk for urban and low-lying area flooding due to heavy rainfall.

Farther west in Florida, from I-95 to about 50 miles inland, gusts to tropical storm force are possible with isolated pockets where brief urban flooding can occur from downpours.

Travel along I-95 in Florida could be hazardous due to the gusty winds, rounds of blinding rain and poor-drainage area flooding.

Matthew to eye the Georgia, Carolina coasts this weekend

Farther north along the coast, from Georgia to North Carolina, similar impacts from Matthew are likely from Friday night to Sunday.

"We expect Matthew's forward speed to decrease this weekend, when a turn to the north, then the northeast and east are forecast," Kottlowski said.

Once again, with a track so close to the coast, the eye could brush some areas with hurricane-force winds as far north as southern North Carolina.

Slow movement of the storm will cause coastal flooding, dangerous surf and beach erosion.

The I-95 swath in the Carolinas and Georgia can incur enough rain to cause flash and urban flooding and significant travel delays.

Charleston, South Carolina, could experience significant flooding due to the combination of heavy rain and storm surge.

Any jog to the west with Matthew's eye could bring hurricane conditions inland from Florida to North Carolina.

Matthew's path for next week remains uncertain

The risk of Matthew directly affecting areas from Virginia to Maine later this weekend and into early next week is less likely. A weakening, non-tropical storm system will cause some showers and breezy conditions in parts of the Northeast.

The most likely scenario into next week is for the hurricane to turn out to sea for a time.

Whether or not the hurricane will keep moving away or turns back toward the coast is unclear at this time.

Such a loop back is rare, but not impossible, given the weakening steering winds later this weekend through next week. Such a path would translate to long-duration rough seas, dangerous surf and beach erosion along the southeastern U.S. coast.

Usually, once a hurricane gets picked up by a non-tropical storm, it continues to push or pull it along for the duration, according to AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams.

"People throughout the U.S. Atlantic coast should continue to monitor the progress of Matthew due to the wide range in paths the hurricane may take next week," Abrams said.