Joaquin Becomes Category 3 Hurricane That May Hit U.S. East

  • Major hurricane landfall in Carolinas possible by Sunday
  • Computer models at odds over track the storm will take

Hurricane Joaquin Projected to Hit Northeast

Joaquin became a major hurricane as it tore toward the Bahamas, and government forecasters said they couldn’t rule out a strike on the U.S. East Coast as early as Sunday.

The hurricane’s top winds were 120 miles (193 kilometers) an hour and it was 10 miles north of Samana Cays, Bahamas, at 8 a.m. New York time, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The official track shifted away from the U.S. mainland overnight; however, a strike on the East Coast is still possible.

“Confidence in the details of the forecast after 72 hours remains low, as there have been some large changes in the model guidance overnight,” senior hurricane specialist Michael Brennan wrote in a forecast analysis. “The range of possible outcomes is still large, and the possibility of a hurricane landfall in the Carolinas still cannot be ruled out.”

The center has been gathering data from aircraft flying into the storm, as well as from a special balloon launch by National Weather Service offices Wednesday. As a result, computer forecast models are beginning to change the storm’s potential track. Some models show the storm striking North Carolina, others have it parallel to the U.S. East Coast into next week and at least one takes it out to sea.

Even if Joaquin doesn’t reach the U.S., the system will create strong onshore winds and minor to moderate flooding along the coasts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states throughout the weekend, NHC said on its website.

Joaquin’s hurricane-strength winds are forecast to batter the Bahamas through Friday. It is currently a Category 3, or major hurricane, on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. While forecasters believed it could grow even stronger, the current wind outlook suggests it may have peaked in power.

Alerts Posted

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches have been posted across the Bahamas including the islands of Cat, Abacos, Eleuthera and Grand Bahama, the Miami-based hurricane center said in the advisory.

As much as 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain may fall across the central Bahamas, and in isolated cases up to 20 inches , which could cause life-threatening flash floods. A storm surge may raise seas as much as 8 feet (2.4 meters) above normal tide levels, with dangerous swells and rip currents being forecast across the chain, as well as in the southeastern U.S., according to the advisory.

The storm is forecast to turn north and pick up speed. That may mean “impacts along the coast occurring sooner than currently forecast,” Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the center, said in an earlier forecast. If that happens, “a hurricane watch could be required for portions of the U.S. coast as early as Thursday evening.”

The U.S. hasn’t been hit by a major hurricane since 2005. Sandy was only a Category 1-level system just prior to hitting the New Jersey coast in 2012.

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