Hurricane Joaquin brings back memories of Superstorm Sandy

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Joaquin has strengthened some overnight, with winds at 120 mph at 5am on Thursday, October 1, 2015. " The official forecast has shifted east. Models are still all over the place and additional changes in the forecast can be expected. Strengthening will continue the next 12 to 24 hours and then weakening will begin. Joaquin will not be a major hurricane as it nears the U.S. Coast later this weekend and early next week. Heavy rain will be a major concern from the Carolinas north no matter where Joaquin goes.

(CNN) — It’s October. A powerful hurricane is brewing in the Bahamas. The whole system is threatening to head straight north.

Forgive the people along the East Coast if they’re having a bad case of Sandy deja vu when it comes to Hurricane Joaquin.

The powerful tropical system became a major hurricane overnight, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph.

Over the next day, the Category 3 storm will only get stronger, the National Hurricane Center said.

Bad memories

It was just three years ago this month that Superstorm Sandy slammed the northeastern United States, devastating parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Could it happen again? Well, yes, but Joaquin probably isn’t Sandy part 2.

“The current track puts it south of where Sandy made landfall,” according to CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen.

The current tracking map shows Joaquin making landfall near Norfolk, Virginia, on Sunday night as a hurricane, then weakening and hitting Washington a day later as a tropical storm.

Still, it wouldn’t take much to push Joaquin into the Big Apple and hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable. One European-based model predicts the storm going out to sea instead.

“If the track shifted east it would be similar to Sandy,” Aissen said. “It would only have to shift 40 to 50 miles.”

No wonder folks are nervous.

Soggy, not as windy

Even if Joaquin makes its way to Sandy’s old stomping grounds, it’s just not going to pack the same punch.

When Sandy made landfall on October 29, 2012, it had hurricane-force winds. Joaquin is projected to be a tropical storm should it get that far north.

The rain? Now that’s a different story.

No matter where Joaquin goes the storm is expected to bring significant rainfall to the East Coast, where some states already were dealing with flood threats from separate systems this week.

“There is so much tropical moisture, we will get 10 inches of rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic (in the next seven days) — and that’s with a miss,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. “If we get a hit … that number may double.”

Large portions of the Eastern Seaboard from South Carolina to Maine were under flood watches and warnings.

Flooding made some streets impassable in Portland, Maine. Several cars were stalled on one street there after their drivers tried to drive through standing water, CNN affiliate WMTW reported.

Getting ready

Coastal communities prepared ahead Joaquin’s expected weekend visit.

“The ground gets saturated, trees come down, there can be a lot of different issues,” Paula Miller with the Virginia Department of Transportation told CNN affiliate WAVY. “If the ground is so saturated that trees start coming down in the roadways, obviously that’s going to be one of the things that we’re going to be prepared to respond to.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.

In eastern Pennsylvania, folks were taking the threat just as seriously. The Poconos took a beating during Sandy.

“What we’re expecting here is to be on alert for flash floods as well as power outages, and so we’re trying to get the word out to the community to think ahead, to have a plan,” Michele Baehr with the Red Cross told affiliate WNEP.

Dwyane Francis of Bushkill stocked up on canned goods.

“Preparation is the key. You have to be prepared for everything,” Francis said.

Yet, some found humor in the hurricane called Joaquin.

Doug Mataconis tweeted a tracking map featuring the head of actor Joaquin Phoenix during different phases of his career.

In the Bahamas

For the next couple of days, though, Joaquin will be meandering near the Bahamas before heading north.

Early Thursday, the storm was churning up the seas about 35 miles northeast of Samana Cays.

“Additional strengthening is forecast today,” the hurricane center said. “Some fluctuations in intensity are possible Thursday night and Friday.”

More than 10,000 people live on the Bahamian islands most squarely in the storm’s path. Ten to 15 inches of rain could fall over much of the central Bahamas through Friday, with lesser amounts expected over the rest of the country, the center said. Isolated amounts of 20 inches are possible.

Rain and winds aren’t the only concerns: Dangerous storm surges — with water levels as high as 3 to 5 feet above normal tides — are possible on the Bahamian coasts.

Swells from Joaquin also will affect the southeastern U.S. coast by Thursday, potentially creating life-threatening rip currents, the hurricane center said.

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