Hurricane Joaquin Strengthens Near Bahamas

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Hurricane Joaquin reached a new category of strength on Wednesday evening as it drifted close to the Bahamas and the U.S. mainland, especially the East Coast, which is likely to have its first landfalling hurricane in 15 months.

Hurricane warnings have been expanded to include more of the Bahamas when an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter reconnaissance aircraft found winds near the center much stronger to 105 mph in the 8 p.m.

This makes Joaquin a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  The surface winds were as high as 117 mph in gusts developing in the still-growing tropical cyclone.  Hurricane Joaquin’s complicated atmospheric pattern makes it difficult to forecast its future track.

Computer forecast models are grappling with a complex interaction between Joaquin, a cold front near the East Coast, the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida, a strong bubble of high pressure aloft over the North Atlantic Ocean and a potentially strong area of low pressure aloft digging into the south-eastern U.S.  later this week. Joaquin’s strong wind shear had kept most of Joaquin’s thunderstorm activity (convection) south or east of its center of circulation, but that changed Tuesday afternoon and evening as thunderstorms developed closer to its circulation center.

Warnings and watches issued are as detailed below:

  • A hurricane warning is now in effect for the northwestern Bahamas including the Abacos, Berry Islands, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, and New Providence, but excluding Andros Island and Bimini.
  • A hurricane warning remains in effect for the central Bahamas, including Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.
  • A hurricane watch is now in effect for Bimini.
  • A tropical storm warning is now in effect for the southeastern Bahamas including the Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana, and the Ragged Islands, but excluding the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Joaquin is expected to slowly churn toward the Bahamas through Thursday before making the anticipated northward turn.  Some of the worst impacts can be expected  to occur on San Salvador and Rum Cay, the islands closest to Joaquin’s current position.  On San Salvador, rainfall totals could exceed 2 feet.  Sustained tropical-storm-force winds of 39 mph or greater may develop Wednesday night and continue unabated for 48 hours or more.  The computer model simulations do not seem to have brought any closer consensus.  The American GFS model forecast shows Joaquin making an alarming north-westward turn, slamming it into Virginia, Maryland or North Carolina this weekend.  The European ECMWF model suggests Joaquin has a chance of staying away from the U.S. East Coast.  It is too soon and uncertain to determine any impacts from Joaquin itself for the U.S. East Coast presently.

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