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It appears that once Hurricane Joaquin finishes puttering around in the Caribbean, it's going to do one of two things: shuffle harmlessly off into the Atlantic, or come right up the United States' East Coast, which would result in an awful lot of rain for York County.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service and AccuWeather agree there's a chance of either happening, though both organizations on Wednesday night tended toward the prediction that it will stick to the coast.

AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dave Bowers said the path will become much more clear in the coming days.

"The next 48 hours will probably tell the tale," he said. "We'll either say 'Yeah, get your galoshes and rowboats ready,' or 'No, it's heading out into the Atlantic, so say goodbye.'"

Rich Glumm of the NWS agreed.

"We think it's gonna rain, but we're highly uncertain about how much it's gonna rain," he said.

Joaquin: In a "worst-case scenario," Joaquin could dump as much as 5 inches of rain on central Pennsylvania this weekend, on top of a separate storm that will get here first with another inch or so of rain Friday and Saturday, the forecasters say. That storm will come whether or not Joaquin comes.

The hurricane strengthened into a Category 3 storm early Thursday. Bowers had predicted it would further strengthen into a Category 3 or even 4 storm.

On Wednesday, maximum sustained winds reached 115 mph and extended 35 miles from the center of the storm over the Atlantic Ocean, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, which also predicted Joaquin would develop into a major hurricane in the coming days.

If the storm does not get caught up in the continental steering winds, it will wander out to sea, which would result in, at worst, minor rain on the East Coast. But if it does stay along the coast, it will in all likelihood come westward, which would mean it would hit the area pretty hard, Bowers said.

If the storm does approach York County, it will have weakened from its peak, but it likely still would be considered a hurricane, Bowers said.

Flooding?: Joaquin could drop 2 to 5 inches of rain on the area in a day to a day and a half starting on Sunday in that scenario; that may be enough for streams and even the Susquehanna River to flood their banks, Bowers said, especially because of rain expected to fall the day before.

"The spectre of flooding is raised because we're already gonna have saturated ground," he said, though he reassured: "It's not gonna be Agnes," referencing the 1972 hurricane that caused massive flooding around central Pennsylvania.

He said that although there could be a great deal of rain, there won't be particularly dangerous winds.

"Nobody's gonna lose their chimney or have their mobile home rolled or anything like that," he said, though there could be some branches down.

Glumm predicted a little less rain on the high end โ€” he said closer to 3 inches for the maximum amount.

Glumm said the area had a pretty moist September โ€” about 8.25 inches of rain had fallen, which is a little more than double the average for the month. That was helped out by the close to 2 inches that fell Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, he said.

Though the previous couple of months had been relatively dry, September brought central Pennsylvania to right about its average for this time of the year.

โ€” Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com.

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