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Atlantic depression could become Tropical Storm Joaquin and threaten Mid-Atlantic and/or Northeast by the weekend

Tropical Depression Eleven is forecast to strengthen into a tropical storm as it tracks north toward the Eastern Seaboard over the next five days. (National Hurricane Center)

A tropical depression that formed northeast of the Bahamas has a chance to significantly impact the East Coast later this week.

Depending on its exact track, which is highly uncertain, heavy rain could impact coastal areas anywhere from the Mid-Atlantic to southern New England and even expand inland west of the I-95 corridor. In addition to the rain, coastal areas could also face gusty winds, high surf, beach erosion and flooding — depending on how the system evolves.

The National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update on Tropical Depression Eleven says the system is centered 465 miles southwest of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. Due to hostile wind shear, the system is not expected to strengthen over the next day.

Conditions could become more favorable for intensification in 24-48 hours when the depression could attain tropical storm status, earning the name Joaquin.

Model track forecasts for this system are widely divergent – ranging from landfall along the North Carolina coast to Long Island. “[C]onfidence in the track forecast is rather low,” the National Hurricane Center stresses.

The European model presents an ominous scenario in which a tropical storm makes landfall near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay Saturday night spreading gusty winds and heavy rain across the Mid-Atlantic. Such a scenario could result in storm surge flooding for the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware beaches and up the Chesapeake Bay.

The latest GFS model, however, targets the region from central New Jersey to New York City (and points north) with a direct hit Friday night. Under this scenario, the Mid-Atlantic is more or less missed with perhaps just a brief period of rain.

Given the huge spread in model forecasts, it’s too early to key in on one scenario. Rather, it’s best to keep an eye on forecasts and how they’re trending over the next couple of days. By Thursday or so, we should have a better idea on which areas are most likely to be impacted and by what specific hazards.

Not only is the track uncertain, but so too is the type of weather system that will affect the coast, whether it’s a tropical depression, a tropical storm, hurricane (as predicted by some high resolution models), or a post (non-) tropical storm.