The third hurricane of the 2015 has become the strongest. Today, Joaquin was found to be packing 130 mph winds, making it a dangerous category 4 hurricane. Very warm water and weak upper-level steering conditions are creating the perfect environment for growth. Residents in the southern Bahamas are reporting widespread flooding and wind damage Thursday afternoon. So the question now is, where will Joaquin head next? Here's the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center:
It still shows the storm remaining just off shore and not making landfall. For the past few days, models that forecast movement have been waffling between sending the storm out to sea and taking aim at some point of the east coast. Not surprisingly, the official track from the National Hurricane Center has been quite wide, nearly paralleling the east coast. This is intended to demonstrate the uncertainty of the forecast.
There are two major complicating factors steering this storm. The first is a stalled cold front, which is draped along the east coast. This has brought some heavy flooding rains from parts of Maine down to South Carolina:
At the same time, there is an upper-level low pressure cell in the southeast that may draw Joaquin northward over the weekend as well as enhance moist conditions from the mid-Atlantic to the southeast:
Computer projections have varied because the location and strength of the upper-low in the Southeast is uncertain. It seems that each day's computer model runs makes a different determination of where the upper-level low will end up.
This afternoon, the so-called spaghetti model plots have a split decision, with roughly half of them trending toward a mid-Atlantic landfall by Sunday and the other half sending the storm toward Bermuda:
There is virtually no chance of Joaquin heading into the Gulf of Mexico, so this will largely be an East Coast concern. It is also interesting to note that in the last 10 years, there have been fourteen Category Four hurricanes, most of them occurring in late September or October. Most have impacted the Caribbean or meandered in the middle of the Atlantic. The last Category Four hurricane to hit the U.S. was Charley in 2004.
Continue to watch for my blog updates on this dangerous storm to see where it ends up. If you know folks along the East Coast, encourage them to remain watchful and to be prepared. Even if the hurricane doesn't make a landfall, the stalled out front could bring more heavy rain that may lead to flooding.