Hurricane Joaquin is seen churning in the Caribbean on Sept. 30, 2015.
NOAA/Getty Images
By Justin Worland
September 30, 2015

Meteorologists and public officials warned Wednesday that Hurricane Joaquin could be a major storm if and when it strikes the East Coast of the U.S. later this week.

The majority of computer models show the storm, which is currently in the Caribbean, turning in toward the U.S., but a confluence of variables make predicting its exact path difficult, according to Climate Central meteorologist Sean Sublette. Unrelated rain expected ahead of Hurricane Joaquin further complicates the situation. If and when Joaquin hits, streets in communities in the mid-Atlantic region may already be flooded. In Virginia, schools and roads were already closed due to flooding as of Wednesday afternoon.

On top of that, jet-stream winds are following an unusual track, making it difficult to predict whether the storm will move up the East Coast or head out into the ocean. Most models show it heading to the U.S., but others, including the model that accurately predicted Hurricane Sandy three years ago, show it heading away from land instead.

“The entire meteorological community wants to convey there’s not much certainty,” said Sublette.

Read Next: Why Climate Change Could Make Hurricane Impact Worse

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that the agency had dispatched a jet to collect samples that will help determine the path of the storm, with projections returning in the early hours of the following morning.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Joaquin was heading toward the Bahamas with winds up to 80 m.p.h.

Despite the uncertainty of the models, experts warn that coastal residents from North Carolina to New York City should be aware of the potential for hurricane conditions. Monitor the weather and check preparedness plans, experts say. Because the hurricane would follow other precipitation, it could lead to “epic flooding” if it hits parts of Virginia and Maryland, said Sublette. New York’s governor put out a warning as well:

Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT

Read More From TIME

EDIT POST