Joaquin upgraded to Category 3, could hit Outer Banks

Posted September 30, 2015 5:15 a.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2015 11:21 p.m. EDT

— Hurricane Joaquin continued to gain strength in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday afternoon, prompting hurricane warnings for the central Bahamas.

Just before 11 p.m. Wednesday, the storm was upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds reaching 115 mph. WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said that the storm is continuing to intensify despite conditions for intensification being less than ideal.

Maze said that data is currently being gathered on the hurricane to better predict its impact.

"I think once it starts to make its move more to the north...I think we'll get a better idea of where it could be making landfall," Maze said.

Several weather models show the storm moving north and curving toward North Carolina and other mid-Atlantic states but the one outlier, said Maze, is the European model which shows the storm tracking far away from North Carolina.

WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel noted that the European model was the only weather model that accurately predicted the path of Super Storm Sandy in 2012.

In order to become classified as a major hurricane, Joaquin's winds need to reach 111 mph, said Maze.

"It's quite possible this could become a Category 4 hurricane before all is said and done with top winds at least up to 131 miles per hour," Maze said.

Parts of the Outer Banks could see major impacts from Joaquin on Sunday, but Fishel said there is just as good of a possibility that the storm stays off the coast and doesn't make landfall.

"A guaranteed landfall still is not there but it certainly is a possibility as we head toward Sunday," Fishel said.

Fishel said that even though the Joaquin has the potential to reach Category 4 strength, with winds up to 140 mph, winds will lessen by time it could reach land.

As Joaquin organizes offshore, steady rain drenched much of the East Coast on Wednesday, flooding roads, closing schools and forcing some people from their homes. And forecasters say the worst is yet to come.

The rainstorms may soon be joined by Joaquin in a powerful weather system that could linger for days and dump as much as 10 inches through early next week in some places. The deluge has the potential to saturate the ground so heavily that trees topple onto power lines even without heavy winds.

"The bottom line is: We are expecting very heavy rains all the way from the Carolinas up into new England," said Bruce Terry, lead forecaster for the government's Weather Prediction Center.