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Hurricane Joaquin strengthens but likely to track out to sea, while Mid-Atlantic flood threat looms

The Post's Jason Samenow gives the latest on Hurricane Joaquin. (Video: Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Tracking through the warm ocean waters of the Bahamas, Hurricane Joaquin exploded in intensity while becoming a dangerous Category 4 storm Thursday. But, at the same time, the forecast track for Joaquin shifted markedly east and it is now very likely the storm will remain out to sea rather than slamming into the East Coast.

While Joaquin may remain offshore, parts of the East Coast remain at risk for flooding from a predecessor surge of moisture streaming up the eastern seaboard Friday into Saturday.

With peak winds of 130 mph, Hurricane Joaquin became the strongest hurricane of the season Thursday. Joaquin is expected to strengthen even more into Friday and may attain sustained winds of 140 mph according to the National Hurricane Center.

In its 5 p.m. update, the official forecast track from the hurricane center shifted the path of the storm almost entirely off of the East Coast. Only coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England remain inside the cone of uncertainty signaling areas to the west and south are mostly out of the woods from the storm’s direct effects.

“A strong majority of the forecast models are now in agreement on a track farther away from the United States East Coast,” the National Hurricane Center wrote. “We are becoming optimistic that the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic states will avoid the direct effects from Joaquin.”

Despite the shift in the track out to sea, the National Hurricane Center cautions “we cannot yet completely rule out direct impacts along on the east coast, and residents there should continue to follow the progress of Joaquin over the next couple of days.”

Flooding remains a major concern due to rain indirectly linked to Joaquin and its interaction with a lingering cold front that is actively drawing deep, tropical moisture up the East Coast and squeezing it out like a wet rag.

[Worst-case scenario from Hurricane Joaquin less likely for D.C. region, but heavy rain likely Friday into Saturday]

Much of the Eastern United States has already received soaking rains from these two features over the past week, and now many of the same areas can expect a whole lot more. This will result in potentially severe flooding, especially in areas of South Carolina where up to 20 inches of rain is predicted.

Flood watches are already in effect from South Carolina all the way up to Connecticut. The flood threat is a serious one — if you are in a flood-prone area, now is the time to begin to take precautions.