Rain, Coastal Flooding Lash Eastern US; Joaquin Near Category 5 Status Well Offshore

ACCUWEATHER: Joaquin has rapidly strengthened to near Category 5 hurricane status. While the powerful hurricane is tracking away from the coast, indirect impacts will still threaten lives and property in parts of the eastern United States into Monday.

Joaquin's extended assault on the Bahamas has altered the storm track. Joaquin is now on a northeastward track that will take the powerful hurricane just west of Bermuda as the weekend comes to a close.

Despite slightly weakening later Friday, Joaquin rapidly strengthened to start the weekend. The hurricane now has maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, which is just shy of Category 5 status.

People in the eastern United States should not let their guard down due to a shifting track of the hurricane.

Moisture from Joaquin has combined forces with a non-tropical storm system to unleash torrential rainfall in South Carolina and western North Carolina into Monday. Historic flooding will unfold.

Even in the absence of a landfall, strong winds continue to buffet the coastline from the Carolinas to the Northeast. Additional incidents of coastal flooding are sure to occur, especially at times of high tide.

Residents in low-lying coastal and inland areas should be ready to evacuate if orders are given.

Multiple states declared a state of emergency in anticipation of flooding, strong winds and power outages.

Across the Carolinas, flooding has already ensued at the start of the weekend and the number of incidents will only mount into Monday.

While soaking rain has departed the mid-Atlantic, a band of torrential rain will persist over parts of the Carolinas into Monday. Lives and property will be severely threatened where the heavy rain inundates the same communities for hours, leading to major flash flooding.

Creeks and streams will turn into raging waterways and potentially overflow their banks. Larger rivers, such as the Savannah River, will also have to be monitored for potential flooding. Some roads could get washed away and be made impassable, while erosion could occur along some embankments.

The greatest concern for flooding will center on South Carolina, as well as southwestern North Carolina and the state's southern coastal plain. The area is even more susceptible to flooding due to recent rain that left the ground saturated.

"People in the Carolinas should be prepared to move to higher ground to protect life if flood waters approach their homes," AccuWeather Meteorologist Mike Doll said. "If you are driving and come across a flooded roadway, your best option is to turn around and find an alternative route."

According to Doll, "Some locations may receive a foot of rain or more, which could exceed once-in-100-year rainfall averages."

A rainfall report received by the Citizen Weather Observer Program indicates that 16 inches fell one mile north of Little River, South Carolina. If deemed official, that would be a new 24-hour rainfall record for South Carolina. Nearby Myrtle Beach currently holds the record when 14.80 inches poured down during Hurricane Floyd on Sept. 16, 1999.

Power outages can occur in addition to the flooding as substations get flooded and water-logged trees topple over. Mudslides are another danger in the mountains.

Farther to the north, the soaking rain has given way to lighter periods of rain and drizzle across the mid-Atlantic. Combined with cool temperatures and chilly winds, the damp conditions will make being outdoors far from desirable.

Like flash and urban flooding, coastal flooding and beach erosion will occur, even as Joaquin remains at sea. The atmospheric roadblock that involves Joaquin, high pressure areas and a storm in the Southeast states is leading to the wind and pounding seas.

Onshore winds from the east and northeast will push the Atlantic Ocean water toward the coast, causing it to pile up around the barrier islands and bays. This is known as coastal flooding.

Seas and tide levels will remain high from the Carolinas to Massachusetts into Monday. East to northeast gusts may frequently reach 40 mph with isolated gusts to 50 mph.

The onshore winds alone, in absence of Joaquin reaching the coast, will cause water levels to rise to an average of 2-3 feet above normal tides from North Carolina to New Jersey. Breakers will average 8-10 feet with offshore waves averaging 14-18 feet.

Winds could become strong enough to down trees and power lines and cause minor property damage.

While the United States is escaping a direct hit, the Bahamas endured the full fury of powerful Hurricane Joaquin and Bermuda is now bracing for impacts.

Rain and wind will increase over Bermuda on Sunday before Joaquin passes roughly within 150 miles (240 km) of the island Sunday night.

While the worst of the hurricane will bypass Bermuda to the west, residents should still prepare for 2-4 inches of rain (50 to 100 mm), wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph (65 to 95 kph) and coastal flooding, especially along the southern coast.

Flash flooding may occur, along with sporadic power outages and minor damage to structures. Additional damage or bodily harm can result from any trees or limbs that get knocked down by the winds.

AccuWeather meteorologists will be closely monitoring the path of Joaquin for any potential shift to the east that would bring more adverse impacts to Bermuda.

The severe pounding that the Bahamas endured is now over. However, a few rain squalls with gusty winds and heavy rain will continue to graze the islands through the remainder of Saturday.

The areas hit the hardest by Joaquin in the Bahamas stretched from Eleuthera to Long Island and Crooked Island.

The U.S. Coast Guard is currently performing a search and rescue mission for a missing container ship with 33 crewmembers that was reported to be caught in Joaquin near Crooked Island. The El Faro, a 735-foot ro-ro cargo ship, was en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, after departing Jacksonville, Florida, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard was first notified that the ship was impacted by Joaquin when it received an Inmarsat satellite notification at approximately 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Two Air Force C-130 Hurricane Hunter aircrews attempted to locate and reestablish communications with the ship but were unsuccessful on Thursday.

The crew consists of 28 U.S. citizens and five Polish nationals, the Coast Guard said.

AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski contributed to the content of this story.



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