The Bahamas was bracing Wednesday for a brush with Hurricane Joaquin, which has strengthened to a category 3 as it moves towards the Central Bahamas, and is expected to be near the East Coast of the U.S. early next week.
The hurricane was expected to pass near the islands of San Salvador, Cat Island, Eleuthera and Rum Cay late Thursday and early Friday, close enough that it could bring tropical-storm-force winds, coastal flooding and 5-10 inches of rain, said Geoffrey Greene, a senior forecaster with the Bahamas Meteorology Department.
"We would be very concerned about them," Greene said of the small, lightly populated islands in the far east of the Bahamas.
The center of the storm was expected to be closest to land in the Bahamas about 2 p.m. Thursday, passing east of San Salvador, Greene said.
Forecasters expected the storm to drop about 3-5 inches in the central Bahamas, including Long Island and Exuma. The effects are projected to be minimal on New Providence, which includes the capital of Nassau, with scattered showers and thunderstorms.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center long-term forecast showed the storm could near the U.S. East Coast above North Carolina early next week, but it said the complexity of the weather environment means "it is too soon to say what impacts, if any, Joaquin will have on the United States."
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One thing is certain — a huge swath of the East Coast will get slammed with heavy rain and flooding this week.
"It could be a significant situation," said Brian Fortier, senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel. "Everyone along the Northeast coast, right up to New England, should keep a close eye on the forecasts."
Joaquin strengthened to a hurricane Wednesday morning, with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph. The Hurricane Center says additional strengthening is expected over the next two days.
The center of the storm early Wednesday was about 245 miles (395 kilometers) east-northeast of the central Bahamas and moving toward the southwest at 6 mph (9kmh).