The National Weather Service has upgraded Hurricane Joaquin to a Category 4 storm that is "extremely dangerous."
The storm has already sustained winds from 131 mph to 151 mph. Forecasters expect the storm to stay offshore of the Eastern U.S., but there will still be coastal flooding and very heavy rains all the way up the seaboard.
The storm however is expected to weaken as it moves along the Eastern coast. Forecasters expect Joaquin will reach eastern Long Island sometime early next week, perhaps Monday night into Tuesday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Joaquin, which is expected to start impacting the state with heavy rainfall on Friday.
It was packing 130 mph winds as it battered the central Bahamas, moving about 6 mph as of 2 p.m. ET
"We are not quite sure if this is going to be a single punch or a double punch," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters Thursday.
But no matter which way Joaquin heads, an area of low pressure in the Southeast and a front stalled over the East Coast will pull moisture from the Atlantic Ocean, causing rain Thursday through at least Saturday, said Bruce Terry, lead forecaster for the government's Weather Prediction Center. The National Weather Service predicts as much as 10 inches for some areas.
Different forecast models predict Joaquin will either ram into Virginia, Maryland or North Carolina this weekend, or avoid the East Coast entirely as it takes a more easterly track up the Atlantic. Overnight, the American model trended toward the European model in predicting that the storm would not make landfall in the United States.
Still, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia appear in line to be soaked by a separate storm pulling tropical air into the region. Between 10 and 15 inches of rain has been forecast over a 72-hour period from Friday through Sunday — with as much as 20 inches in some places. Parts of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey are also expected to be drenched this weekend.
In Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, officials were hoping sandbags protect the town if the hurricane strikes the Outer Banks. "It could be some resemblance of what Sandy [in 2012] offered us, and we've learned some lessons from that," Kitty Hawk Mayor Gary Perry told NBC station WAVY.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that emergency operations centers are staffing up and government departments will begin monitoring areas that have been prone to problems from severe weather.
Low-lying areas in New York and New Jersey were ravaged by Superstorm Sandy.
"I have learned the hard way that it is better to prepare for the worst, and in the past, we were not. We did not take worst-case scenario into full consideration and we paid the price," Cuomo said.
Due to the storm, three cruise lines have been forced to reroute ships, including Carnival, Princess and Norwegian, according to Cruise Critic. Disney has also had to make itinerary changes to three of its ships.
The National Football League has also made contingency plans for the Eagles vs. Redskins game scheduled for Sunday in the D.C. area.
"We are monitoring the forecast and having dialogue with both teams," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of communications.
—NBC News contributed to this report.