What made Hurricane Matthew so unique?

Story highlights

  • Matthew shot up from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane in one day
  • It stayed a Category 4 or 5 hurricane longer than all Atlantic hurricanes from the past eight years combined

(CNN)Record flooding. Hundreds of deaths. A hurricane so unusual, even forecasters were astonished.

Hurricane Matthew shattered several records during its deadly march through the Caribbean and up the southeast US coast.
    Here's what we've learned about the extraordinary storm and the catastrophe it left behind:

    Record-breaking stamina

    "Matthew is the longest-lasting Category 4 or 5 hurricane in the month of October since record-keeping began" more than 50 years ago, CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said.
    That means Matthew hurled maximum sustained winds of at least 130 mph for more than four days straight. That's unusual in October because the water is typically cooler.
    "The reason it lasted for so long is because it avoided as much land for as long as it possibly could," Chinchar said.
    "Elevation is normally a good storm killer. The fact that it never made a big landfall on a big landmass or on high elevation is why it maintained intensity."

    Hundreds of deaths

    Residents try to move the remains of a pregnant woman killed by Hurricane Matthew in Jeremie, Haiti.
    Matthew annihilated Haiti, a country that really couldn't take another deadly disaster. At least 60,000 people were still living in makeshift homes after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
    The hurricane killed at least 300 people there, said Paul Altidor, Haitian ambassador to the United States.
    "We expect, unfortunately, that number to rise a little bit as we begin to access communities, regions that were inaccessible because of the roads, because of the bridges that fell due to the hurricane," Altidor said.
    Others report much higher death tolls. Reuters said more than 800 people died in Haiti, citing local civil protection officials.
    Adding to the catastrophe: A bridge collapsed and severed National Route 2, the main road between the capital and Haiti's devastated southern peninsula.
    Matthew also killed at least 15 people in the United States: seven in North Carolina, four in Florida, three in Georgia and one in South Carolina.
    It also claimed the lives of four people in the Dominican Republic and a teenage boy in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

    A freakishly rapid intensification

    What's left in Florida after Hurricane Matthew
    What's left in Florida after Hurricane Matthew

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      What's left in Florida after Hurricane Matthew

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    What's left in Florida after Hurricane Matthew 01:16
    In just one day, Hurricane Matthew went from a Category 1 hurricane (whipping winds of 74 to 95 mph) to a Category 5 (winds of at least 157 mph).
    That marks the third-fastest intensification of a hurricane in a 24-hour period, behind hurricanes Wilma (2005) and Felix (2007), CNN meteorologist Jenn Varian said.
    After intensifying, Matthew stayed a Category 4 or 5 hurricane "longer than all other Atlantic hurricanes from 2008 until now -- combined," Chinchar said.

    Its slow crawl

    For much of its 9½ days as a hurricane, Matthew chugged along slowly -- between 3 and 14 mph.
    That meant the storm hovered longer over its victims, unleashing more torrential rain and devastating winds.
    Most recently, Matthew's slow pace has punished coastal North Carolina, where earth already soaked by rain couldn't handle record-breaking flooding.

    Threat of an encore

    For days, meteorologists and those in Matthew's path worried the hurricane would turn clockwise in a circle across the Atlantic and slam Florida once again.
    Luckily, that probably won't happen anymore, Chinchar said Sunday.
    "It looks like it's going to die off before it gets to the point of turning around," Chinchar said.
    In fact, what's left of Matthew -- now heading east, farther into the Atlantic -- will likely sputter out in the next two to three days.