Tropical Storm Joaquin, which had already been expected to add to a drenching of the East Coast through the weekend, strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday morning as it neared the Bahamas.

Forecasters are divided as to whether its eye, around which the most violent part of the storm circulates, will hit the East Coast later this week.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says additional strengthening is expected over the next two days. Meanwhile, a hurricane warning has been issued for the central Bahamas as the storm approaches, where some parts of the island nation could see over a foot of rain, the hurricane center said.

According to the Weather Channel, an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter reconnaissance aircraft measured sufficiently strong flight-level winds and low surface pressure to prompt the National Hurricane Center to upgrade Joaquin. The Hurricane Hunters found a 55-mile-wide eye open on its north side.

Joaquin’s maximum sustained winds increased to near 75 mph, triggering the alert.

Early on Wednesday, the storm was centered about 245 miles east-northeast of the central Bahamas and was moving southwest at about 6 mph. Its center is expected to pass over or near the central Bahamas Wednesday night or early Thursday.

“It could be a significant situation,” said Brian Fortier, senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel. “Everyone along the Northeast coast, right up to New England, should keep a close eye on the forecasts.”

Already, the hurricane center said that ocean swells generated by Joaquin will begin to affect portions of the east coast of Florida and the U.S. Southeast coast by Friday, potentially causing life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

Forecasters, however, are unsure what its exact track is likely to be. Some say the most violent parts of the storm will stay offshore; others say it could make landfall, probably in the mid-Atlantic, this weekend.

Computer models used by meteorologists to predict weather show a wide variation of possible paths for the storm, including the prospect of a direct hit somewhere on the East Coast or a turn out to sea.

Ahead of Joaquin (wah-KEEN), rain from other weather systems will soak much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday.

Flash flood watches are posted in New York State and New England, the National Weather Service said.

Moderate to heavy rainfall possible from the central Appalachians to New England, where rainfall amounts in excess of 3 inches are possible for some locations, the weather service said.

Heavy rain Tuesday caused flash floods in portions of Virginia and North Carolina.

The current weather is the result of a complex cocktail of “moving parts,” said the Weather Channel’s Fortier, including a cold front in the east and low pressure in the South that has already caused heavy rainfall there.

USA TODAY’s Doyle Rice contributed to this report.