Hurricane Joaquin, extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, still battering the Bahamas; US landfall unlikely
Hurricane Joaquin appears to have passed its peak as a tropical cyclone, but it continues to hammer the central Bahamas with dangerous hurricane-force winds, storm surge flooding and torrential rainfall as it lumbers slowly northward.
Tropical storm watches have been posted for Bermuda as Joaquin begins what is essentially the second leg of its journey, having made the expected sharp change in direction earlier Friday after drifting southwestward for several days.
The former Category 4 storm will finally exit the beleaguered Bahamas Saturday. It now appears very likely that Joaquin will stay away from the Atlantic coasts of the U.S. and Canada, due in part to the influence of an extremely dangerous non-tropical system developing over the southeastern U.S.
Dozens were reported trapped in their homes in the central Bahamas, with authorities unable to reach them. All schools have been closed in The Bahamas and thousands are without power.
- A tropical storm watch has been issued for Bermuda, while the tropical storm warning for eastern Cuba has been discontinued.
- At 5 p.m. EDT Friday, the eye of Hurricane Joaquin was centered about 15 miles west-northwest of San Salvador in the central Bahamas.
- Maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly to 125 mph, making Joaquin a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
- Hurricane warnings remain in effect for a large part of the Bahamas. Tropical storm warnings are up for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
- This system has made the anticipated turn toward the north, though its forward motion has only picked up to 7 mph.
- Joaquin's northward motion will accelerate by Saturday as it finally departs the Bahamas.
- Dangerous coastal and inland flooding is still expected for several states along the U.S. East Coast through the weekend despite Joaquin remaining well out to sea.
- Joaquin's closest pass to Bermuda will be Sunday. It remains uncertain how close Joaquin's center will be to the archipelago.
See photos of Hurricane Joaquin:
Joaquin Blasting the Central Bahamas
It has been over 24 hours since Joaquin's eyewall, the ring of extreme winds surrounding the eye itself, started pummeling the central Bahamas.
Satellite imagery indicates the eyewall is still hammering Rum Cay, San Salvador, Long Island. Cat Island and The Exumas. It appears the eyewall has finally moves northwest of The Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana and uninhabited Samana Cay in the central Bahamas.
Flooding from storm surge and torrential rainfall has been documented on Long Island and Acklins. A Weather Underground personal weather station at Pitts Town, Crooked Island, reported winds up to 84 mph before it stopped reporting.
Unfortunately, this Category 3 hurricane won't finally accelerate away from the storm-battered central Bahamas until Saturday. A catastrophic situation may be unfolding there with such a prolonged period of intense hurricane conditions.
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Here are the valid tropical cyclone watches and warnings as of 5 p.m. EDT Friday:
A hurricane warning remains in effect for parts of the central, northwestern and southeastern Bahamas including the Abacos, Berry Islands, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island, New Providence, Acklins, Crooked Island and Mayaguana. This includes both Nassau and Freeport.
A hurricane watch remains in effect for Bimini and Andros Island.
A tropical storm warning continues for Andros Island and the rest of the southeastern Bahamas not in the hurricane warning, including the Turks and Caicos Islands.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for Bermuda.
Joaquin is in the process of making its sharp right turn and heading north, but it's already too late for that turn to spare the Bahamas from dangerous impacts.
Potential impacts for any islands the eyewall of Joaquin touches include:
- Catastrophic wind damage: Even well-built homes may lose their roofs and experience failure of one or more exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped and many uprooted. Given the small size of the islands, the electrical grid will likely experience a complete blackout and may be partially or completely destroyed. Recovery may take weeks or months.
- Dangerous storm surge and waves: In areas where the wind blows toward shore, water levels may rise 6 to 12 feet above normal tide levels, flooding areas, especially near the immediate shore. Extremely high waves from the open ocean may then damage or destroy any structures flooded by seawater.
- Extreme rainfall: Rainfall totals up to 25 inches are possible, leading to potentially life-threatening flash flooding. Storm surge and the generally low elevations of the islands will greatly limit the ability of rainwater to run off into the ocean, further aggravating the situation.
An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter reconnaissance aircraft flying through Hurricane Joaquin Thursday morning found estimated surface winds of 117 knots, or roughly 135 mph, in the southwestern eyewall's deep thunderstorms.
At one point between Wednesday morning and Thursday evening, Joaquin saw a pressure drop of 57 millibars in about 39 hours, going from a strong tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in the process.
Colorado State University tropical meteorologist Dr. Phil Klotzbach said Joaquin was the first Category 4 hurricane to track through The Bahamas in October since 1866. Joaquin -- 931 millibars -- was also the most intense Atlantic hurricane since 2010's Hurricane Igor.
As virtually all intense tropical cyclones do, Joaquin appeared to be in an eyewall replacement cycle, a process during which a second, outer eyewall forms, chokes off inflow to the old, inner eyewall, then contracts inward. During these cycles, fluctuations in intensity can be expected.
Hurricane Joaquin remains intense as wind shear – harmful to the intensification of tropical cyclones – has lessened substantially from a few days ago. However, this wind shear will increase once again as Joaquin moves north this weekend, finally inducing a gradual weakening.Forecast Track Becoming Clearer
A complicated atmospheric pattern makes its future track – including any potential landfall on the U.S. East Coast – still a challenge to forecast, but a bit clearer than earlier this week.
Residents along the East Coast of the U.S. should still pay close attention to the forecast now through this weekend, though the threat is much lower from Joaquin itself than it appeared earlier this week.
See photos of severe weather on the East Coast:
Computer forecast models – and the meteorologists who use them for guidance – have grappled 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 strong area of low pressure aloft digging into the southeastern U.S.
Over the last few days, those computer forecasts have put out a bewildering range of future track scenarios, though mostly in two main camps – one favoring a U.S. landfall, and the other favoring a decisive northeastward path over the open waters of the western Atlantic.
On Thursday, computer models moved closer to a consensus, as models formerly bullish on a U.S. landfall began pulling their forecast paths east, favoring tracks closer to the Atlantic seaboard or even entirely offshore. The model consensus as of early Friday morning, reflected in the National Hurricane Center's 8 a.m. advisory, favors a track east of the East Coast.
While the official forecast cone has shifted east of the mainland U.S., it's important to note that the NHC cone is only designed to encompass about two-thirds of the typical range of possibilities, so as not to overwarn areas at relatively low risk. It is too early to completely write off a track closer to the East Coast, even though it now appears rather unlikely.
Data from NOAA Gulfstream aircraft surveillance missions and extra balloon soundings launched from National Weather Service offices on the mainland may have contributed to the eastward shift in some of the model guidance.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of Joaquin's path, portions of the East Coast states will still see multiple impacts from the evolving large-scale weather pattern, including flooding rainfall, coastal flooding, high surf, beach erosion, and gusty winds. These threats will extend well inland from the Atlantic coast.
The eastward shift in the forecast also means that Bermuda is at an increased risk of at least peripheral impacts from Joaquin. Watches or warnings may be issued for Bermuda on Friday. Portions of Atlantic Canada may end up dealing with Joaquin early next week.
Check back with us at weather.com and The Weather Channel for the latest developments on Joaquin.
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