Tropical Storm Joaquin continues to pose a vague threat to the East Coast with the latest update from the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

In what has proven to be a challenging forecast, the NHC shows the storm continuing to strengthen but its track is anything but certain. Below is what we know and we’re waiting to find out about Joaquin’s track, intensity and possible impacts on the populous Eastern Seaboard.

The Clearest Things

Joaquin is strengthening. After spending Tuesday morning as a middling tropical storm, Joaquin is getting its act together. Pressure inside the storm has dropped to 990 millibars and winds are sustained at 65 mph — close to hurricane strength — according to hurricane hunter observations made late Tuesday afternoon.

GOES Satellite imagery of Joaquin on Sept. 29.

GOES Satellite imagery of Joaquin on Sept. 29.


There’s even hints of an eye, suggesting that the storm is getting its act together. In fact, it’s likely that the storm should reach hurricane status by Wednesday evening if not sooner.

The Bahamas should prepare for impacts. While Joaquin’s path after Friday remains unclear, its path until then shows that the Bahamas should expect at least some kind of impact in the next 48-72 hours. Parts of the island chain could see heavy surf and, depending on how close Joaquin gets, a good dose of rain as well. NHC has suggested that watches and advisories could go up as early as Tuesday evening.

The Murkiest Things

Whether Joaquin makes landfall in the U.S. The biggest question is where — or even if — Joaquin hits the U.S. Right now, models show a very wide spread of landfall possibilities along with a number of scenarios where the storm stays out to sea.

One reason for the uncertainty is the meteorological mess currently shaping up in the atmosphere. In addition to Joaquin, a major cold front that will help usher in big rains to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, two smaller tropical systems and high pressure over Canada are all part of a dance where the choreography is still a little uncertain for each dancer. Add in Joaquin and the exact next step in the dance remains a little unclear.

Tuesday afternoon’s update from the NHC favors a more out-to-sea track, but the forecast still notes the considerable uncertainty between models.

Tropical Storm Joaquin forecast issued on Sept. 29
Tropical Storm Joaquin forecast issued on Sept. 29

Tropical Storm Joaquin forecast issued on Sept. 29.


How strong the storm will get. While Joaquin is likely to attain hurricane strength, just how strong it gets is still uncertain. Wind shear, which can prevent storms from strengthening, is expected to slacken a bit in the next few days. And Joaquin will have some warm water to work with. The latest NHC forecast has the storm reaching borderline Category 2 intensity by Friday evening, but if it continues to strengthen after that remains unclear.

What It Means

It’s still wait and see time for what Joaquin could mean for the East Coast. In a worst case scenario, Joaquin could come ashore as a hurricane somewhere north of North Carolina. That would add considerable rain to what is a region that’s already saturated. But it’s also possible the storm will stay far enough away from the U.S. that the worst effects will be some heavy waves for parts of the coast.