Hurricane Matthew likely to bring rain to the Berkshires, but there's uncertainty about how hard it will hit

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Beware of a dangerous storm named Matthew.

Best-case scenario: The Berkshires and southern Vermont get a beneficial, soaking rainfall of an inch or two, with moderate breezes, as Hurricane Matthew passes offshore, a safe distance from southern New England, on Sunday.

Worst-case scenario: Matthew scores a more direct hit, hugging the coast, dumping flooding rains and pumping strong winds into the region.

More likely scenario: Light to moderate rainfall, making limited impact on the moderate to severe drought affecting most of the area.

The most powerful Atlantic hurricane of the past decade pummeled parts of Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas on Tuesday, threatening Florida's East Coast.

Forecasters are in general agreement that even though the storm is close to five days away from the Northeast coastline, western New England is likely to face some effects midway through the Columbus Day holiday weekend.

Following a string of unusually mild and postcard-perfect autumn days for the rest of the week, the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., cautioned that the weekend outlook could change significantly as the hurricane tracks up the Eastern Seaboard.

The latest prediction from the National Hurricane Center shows Matthew making a beeline for the coast of the Carolinas, targeting Charleston and Myrtle Beach by Saturday morning as a category 3 hurricane, weaker than its currently strong category 4 rank, but still a major storm with winds between 110 and 130 miles per hour.

Berkshire Community College's atmospheric scientist Joe Kravitz pointed out that the American computer model, which had Matthew hugging the coast, now depicts the storm as moving out to sea, well off Cape Cod. That scenario, coupled with a cold front coming in from the Midwest and funneling copious tropical moisture from Matthew into the county, could yield at least an inch of rain.

"I'm still holding out hope that we can get a significant amount of rain," he said. "I don't thing wind will be an issue and because the soil is so dry, even heavier rain would pose no danger."

At AccuWeather.com, senior meteorologist Henry Margusity pointed out that "an offshore path that parallels the U.S. Atlantic coast could still lead to heavy rain in New England, with impacts similar to a nor'easter with gale force winds. It could be a wild weekend."

The forward speed of a hurricane that parallels the coast can rapidly increase as it moves northeastward this time of the year, he added.

With Berkshire reservoir levels dropping rapidly and streams running low or dry, relief from the ongoing drought would be welcome.

Although plenty of uncertainty surrounds the final track of the storm, meteorologist Ingrid Amberger at the National Weather Service in Albany stressed the need for rainfall, though "too much in too short a time could be a problem."

The current outlook is for Matthew to be east of New Jersey and south of Long Island, N.Y., this weekend, and the effects of the storm could be felt in western New England Saturday night into Sunday, she said. How close the hurricane hugs the coast will determine how severe, or minimal, the impact would be in the Berkshire region.

The U.S. Drought Monitor continues to place most of eastern Berkshire County in a severe drought, including towns such as Becket, Otis, Hinsdale, Peru, Dalton, Washington and Cheshire.

The rest of south and central Berkshire, including Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lee, Lenox, Richmond, Pittsfield and Lanesborough, as well as adjacent smaller towns, are ranked as moderate drought areas.

Only Williamstown, North Adams and Adams, along with Bennington County, are in the least severe pre-drought category, classified as abnormally dry.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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