Matthew now a powerful Category 5 hurricane

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Tropical Storm Matthew became a major hurricane on Friday and threatens Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the Bahamas.

MIAMI – Matthew has rapidly strengthened into a powerful Category 5 storm, and a hurricane  watch has now been issued for Jamaica.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Matthew is packing top sustained winds of 160 mph after gaining new strength Friday over the central Caribbean. The storm is located about 80 miles north of Punta Gallinas, Colombia, and about 440 miles (750 kilometers) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica.

This is the first Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

Matthew probably is near its peak intensity and will likely maintain a similar strength during the next 12 hours or so. Data from the reconnaissance plane show an incipient outer band of maximum

winds, indicating that an eyewall replacement cycle could occur soon. This should result in fluctuations in intensity, and given that southwesterly shear is still affecting the cyclone, some

weakening is anticipated. However, Matthew is forecast to be a category 4 hurricane by the time it moves near Jamaica and eastern Cuba. Some additional weakening is expected over the high terrain of Cuba.

The center says that as of 11 p.m. Friday, the storm is moving west-southwest at 7 mph.

In addition to a hurricane watch for Jamaica, authorities also issued a tropical storm watch for the southwestern coast of Haiti. The tropical storm watch is in effect from Haiti’s southern border with the Dominican Republic to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Forecasters say Matthew is expected to turn toward the west-northwest by Saturday night and then toward the northwest on Sunday. The center says the storm’s expected path over the central Caribbean is forecast to bring Matthew near Jamaica on Sunday.

Stay with FOX 61 as this story develops and get your full forecast here.