Atlantic Ocean – Hurricane Lee, which experienced an unprecedented surge in intensity, has slightly weakened, now categorized as a Category 4 storm. This followed a historic period of rapid intensification when the hurricane strengthened from Category 1 to Category 5 in just one day.
Currently, Hurricane Lee has maximum sustained winds of 155 mph and is situated approximately 550 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands. While its current intensity is slightly lower than its overnight peak, the National Hurricane Center warns that minor fluctuations in wind speed may continue over the next several days.
There is uncertainty regarding whether Hurricane Lee will directly impact the US mainland. It is predicted to remain a major hurricane over the southwestern Atlantic in the early part of the upcoming week.
Lee’s rapid intensification was remarkable, with its wind speeds increasing by 85 mph within a 24-hour period. This tied it with Hurricane Matthew for the third-fastest rapid intensification in the Atlantic, as reported by NOAA research meteorologist John Kaplan. Hurricane Matthew had struck Haiti in 2016, causing significant devastation in the Caribbean and parts of the US Southeast.
The effects of Hurricane Lee are already being felt, with dangerous surf and rip currents spreading across the northern Caribbean and anticipated impacts on the US mainland beginning on Sunday.
The hurricane’s path is expected to keep it north of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Nonetheless, tropical storm conditions, life-threatening surf, and rip currents may affect some of these islands over the weekend.
Lee’s remarkable strength places it among a rare group of storms. Only 2% of Atlantic storms reach Category 5 strength, according to NOAA’s hurricane database. Including Hurricane Lee, there have been only 40 Category 5 hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic since 1924.
Category 5 hurricanes are the most powerful on the hurricane wind speed scale, with no upper limit. Hurricanes reach this category when their sustained winds reach 157 mph or higher. Hurricane Lee, with its 165 mph winds, is classified in the same category as Hurricane Allen, the Atlantic’s strongest hurricane on record, which reached 190 mph in 1980.
Lee’s rapid intensification was facilitated by favorable conditions, including warm ocean waters, moist air, and light upper-level winds. Warm water temperatures, accentuated by this year’s record-breaking summer, played a crucial role in its development.
Remarkably, the Atlantic has seen an increase in Category 5 hurricanes over the past decade. Lee represents the eighth Category 5 hurricane since 2016, indicating a trend towards more powerful hurricanes in recent years. This year, all seven ocean basins that produce tropical cyclones have experienced Category 5 storms.
The hurricane’s potential impact on the US East Coast remains uncertain, with factors such as high-pressure systems, the jet stream’s position, and the timing of Lee’s northward turn all influencing its trajectory. As the hurricane progresses westward, its proximity to the East Coast will become clearer in the coming days.
Image credits; Wikimedia