There is one model that stands out from the rest in predicting Hurricane Joaquin will never turn toward U.S. coastline -- and it's the same one that for days called Superstorm Sandy's drive into the New Jersey shore.
The European model "continues to forecast a slower northeastward motion taking Joaquin near Bermuda and out to sea," National Hurricane Center forecasters wrote Thursday morning.
The Canadian and several other models are maintaining predictions that Joaquin will strike the Outer Banks of North Carolina before driving up the Chesapeake Bay. The chief American and British models call for a more northerly track, possibly sending a tropical storm into Long Island, but still brushing Maryland with heavy rain and wind and pounding Ocean City with storm surge.
"Of course it gives us pause," Rich Foot, founder of Foot's Forecast, said of the European model's predictions.
The website has been warning Marylanders that Joaquin could match or surpass Isabel, Irene and Sandy in its impact, but the European model's prediction "is an outcome that needs to be considered," he said.
The European gained credibility -- and generated some criticism for the American models -- when Sandy took a sharp turn toward New Jersey, just as it had predicted for days. Other models didn't see it, and eventually converged on a strike of the Delmarva peninsula.
This time, it's a lone voice again, but with a different sort of message.
Meteorologists simply can't take one model as gospel, said Matt Elliott, of the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office.
"The spread of the models is significant enough where it's still really uncertain," he said. "Yeah, there's a group of models that are taking it out to sea, but there's also several others that have performed fairly well in the past that bring it to the coast."
All of the models take in various inputs from current conditions to make their predictions. As time passes, they are likely to converge, he said -- any landfall on U.S. shores is at least three days away.
And even if Joaquin's path isn't up the Chesapeake, there is still reason to prepare, Foot emphasized -- given heavy rain forecast ahead of the storm Friday, Joaquin's impact will be magnified, with flooding and storm surge still likely.