(NEW YORK) — What to know:
- Hurricane Joaquin is picking up strength as it hits the Bahamas
- It is a Category 4 hurricane, meaning sustained winds at 130 mph with higher gusts
- The weather forecasting system that initially predicted it would hit the East Coast is now saying it will likely stay over the Atlantic Ocean
- But officials warn East Coast residents not to let their guard down
- The storm is expected to stay in the Caribbean until at least Friday morning
A looming hurricane that some thought was headed right toward the U.S. East Coast as it gained strength appears now to be headed out to sea.
But Hurricane Joaquin has been upgraded to a Category 4 storm, according to the latest reports from the National Hurricane Center.
Where Is It Headed Next?
The hurricane has now reached the Bahamas and is expected to stay in the area for at least another day before likely turning out over the Atlantic Ocean. There’s “a lot of uncertainty” about whether it will hit the East Coast,” National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “Just because the hurricane is in the Bahamas doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with some very dangerous” conditions on the U.S. East Coast with flooding and rains.
The time that the hurricane spends in the Bahamas serves to strengthen it further, as the warm waters in the area enabled the storm to pick up steam and jump to a Category 4 storm, which is qualified as a storm with winds exceeding 130 mph.
“We still don’t know where Joaquin will go next,” Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said at today’s new conference. “We’re not taking any chances; that’s why we’re telling the public to make sure you have a plan and get ready.”
Will It Hit The East Coast?
While the potential impact on the Bahamas is clear, with weather experts predicting huge waves of up to 30 feet and a storm surge that could go up to 8 feet, the fate of the U.S. East Coast was uncertain earlier but now seems to be less troublesome.
The Global Forecast System, widely known as the model used to predict U.S. weather, now suggests that the hurricane is most likely to stay out to sea.
The GFS’s earlier prediction that the storm would make landfall in the United States ran counter to the European model, which has been consistently saying the hurricane would remain largely over water.
What Is Being Done to Prepare?
Precautions are underway, nevertheless, with governors in many coastal states warning residents to be ready for wet storms, power outages and road closures.
States like New Jersey and New York that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are particularly wary.
Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency in New Jersey, as have governors in North Carolina and Virginia.
“The immediate threat is for severe flooding on Friday and Saturday, the second is tracking the path of Hurricane Joaquin as those forecasts become clearer over the next 24 to 72 hours,” Christie said in a statement Thursday.
Where Is the Storm Right Now?
ABC News will be running a live radar tracker throughout the day, seen below:
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