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Forecasters with the federal government predict Hurricane Lee will reach Category 5 status by the weekend as it heads toward the United States, though its extended track remains uncertain.
Maximum sustained winds are expected to reach 160 miles per hour by the weekend, putting the storm at the high end of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with the potential for “catastrophic” damage.
“Many of the models are calling for remarkable rates of intensification, beyond rates normally seen with model forecasts,” the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in a Thursday discussion post.
In the days that follow, the storm is expected to slightly diminish to Category 4 status, which would still keep it as a major hurricane.
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 7, 2023
The NHC said the storm, which was moving over the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean as a Category 2 hurricane as of midday on Thursday, would likely travel north of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and other nearby islands over the weekend and into next week. But, the agency added, these islands should continue monitoring for updates.
“Swells generated by Lee are expected to reach portions of the Lesser Antilles on Friday, and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Bahamas, and Bermuda this weekend. These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the NHC stressed in one of its “key” messages.
A look at Hurricane Lee as it swirls in the western Atlantic Ocean this morning. The current maximum sustained wind gusts are 90 mph.
Lee is forecast to intensify rapidly into a powerful Category 5 hurricane (157+ mph sustained winds) by the weekend. pic.twitter.com/OUpcEKCIfr
— AccuWeather (@accuweather) September 7, 2023
The outlook for next week for Hurricane Lee gets murky, as is often the case with extended forecasts, and even if it does not make landfall over North America, its effects could still extend far and wide.
A video from AccuWeather showed that Hurricane Lee would turn to the north and, depending on the jet stream, could lead to a “direct impact risk” somewhere along the coast of the Mid-Atlantic, New England, or Canada. Another possibility is that the jet stream steers it away from the U.S.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 to November 30, is currently at its peak. Another hurricane named Idalia slammed into Florida’s Gulf Coast last week, causing flooding, power outages, and at least two deaths.
Though it appears right now Hurricane Lee will not hit Florida, one local forecaster recommended that the rest of the East Coast keep watch. “Models continue to thankfully keep this well away from Florida, but should be monitored from the Carolinas to Eastern Canada,” said WINK News chief meteorologist Matt Devitt.