Joaquin expected to drench Carolinas

Hurricane Joaquin — now a Category 3 storm — could make landfall as a devastating storm as far south as Wilmington, N.C., on Sunday, federal forecasters said Wednesday. But the biggest problem that Lowcountry forecasters see so far is rain, and a lot of it, across an already soaked and flooded coast.

National Hurricane Center forecasters nudged the forecast track of Joaquin south Wednesday evening. The center of the track area ran the storm along the Outer Banks in North Carolina, passing the Lowcountry well out to sea. But individual computer models still varied widely.

“The range of possible outcomes is still large, and includes the possibility of a major hurricane landfall in the Carolinas,” said hurricane center specialist Jack Beven.

At this point, local forecasters don’t think the heart of the storm could come in any farther south than North Carolina.

But rain from Joaquin could drop on top of other tropical rain systems expected to continue to drench the Lowcountry through the weekend.

“We’re going to get a good soaking around here the next few days,” said meteorologist Steve Rowley, of the National Weather Service, Charleston.

One possibility for Joaquin is for the storm to come ashore in North Carolina, linger and then move out again — dumping rain the whole time.

Worse, tidal floodwater from the perigee moon and onshore winds is still pushed up against the Lowcountry coast, so severe coastal flooding and erosion could be possible, Rowley said. Surf at the beaches is rising and could climb to 5 feet by Saturday.

Rip currents will continue to be a risk, he said.

At 11 p.m. Wednesday, the storm was moving southwest at 6 mph into the Bahamas, with maximum-sustained winds of 115 mph.

Forecasters expect it to edge northward Thursday by winds coming off the East Coast.

As off-and-on rain continued to plague the Lowcountry on Wednesday, steady rain drenched much of the East Coast, flooding roads, closing schools and forcing some people from their homes.

The federal Weather Prediction Center said Joaquin on top of the rainstorms could pour as much as 10 inches of rain in some places through early next week.

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, the prediction center’s lead forecaster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Bo Petersen at (843) 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.