It's an ominous image and frightening possibility. A Tampa-area meteorologist shared a satellite map of Hurricane Matthew in a "loop" scenario where the violent storm would circle back and hit Florida twice. The colorful video and dire prospect went viral, even though FOX 13's Paul Dellegatto accompanied the global forecast system (GFS) model with, "In all likelihood, it will not be as dramatic as the GFS run from Tuesday night (below). Would not concern ourselves with this scenario playing out."
Too late. The image and idea spread like wildfire with many people saying this was an actual forecast instead of one of many possible paths the storm could take.
The simulated loop path was shared throughout social media:
"What the models are predicting with Matthew would be unprecedented if it were to make landfall," Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach told USA Today a few days ago. At the time, he thought there was little chance it would happen. Now, he tells the Associated Press, it's "probably pretty likely."
Jeff Masters, a former federal hurricane hunter meteorologist and meteorology director of Weather Underground, puts the odds of a full loop at about 50-50 but says the odds are changing and could get more likely. As meteorologists and anyone who has weathered a storm seems to know, hurricanes are unpredictable.
There have been hurricane loopers in the past. Masters pointed out that Hurricane Ivan hit the Florida Panhandle in 2004, then went up to Virginia, back down through Florida and back into the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. In the 1980s, Hurricane Elena looped outside of the Tampa Bay area and Juan made two loops off the coast of Louisiana.
Can hurricanes do bizarre loops? Yes! Here are four. pic.twitter.com/G4BbhwcEkP— Lanza Sings Christmas Carols (@mattlanza) October 5, 2016
Although forecasters still don't know if Matthew will be content with just one pass through Florida, the good news is that storms typically lose steam the second time around.
"The second landfall, if it does happen ... is considerably less of a worry than what's going to occur in the next day or two," meteorologist Ryan Maue at Weather Bell Analytics also told the AP. "Florida is going to take a lot of the punch out of it when it hits land" the first time.