Over the span of 24 hours, sustained wind speeds of Hurricane Lee increased from 80 miles per hour to 160 mph. Lee is now a large Category 5 hurricane, only the eighth such storm to form in the Atlantic since 2016. Lee is expected to maintain, or even increase, its intensity as it approaches the Caribbean.
Even though Lee is currently moving west on a seeming collision course with the U.S., its upcoming turn to the north has become more certain as both American and European models of the storm are in close agreement. Much of the East Coast is likely to see high winds and heavy surf as the storm sweeps north, but should be spared the damage of a direct impact. However, there remains a significant threat that Lee will strike maritime regions of Canada as a strong hurricane.
Lee began as a tropical disturbance off the coast of West Africa. It has traveled rapidly and directly across the Atlantic, gaining intensity as it passed over record-warm waters.
As of Friday morning, that westward track remains unchanged, but a pair of high pressure areas are expected to direct Lee along a lower-pressure “trough” beginning on Tuesday. Until then, Lee will continue on course, passing north of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. All these areas can expect difficult weather from the storm’s passage, but it is expected to remain 200 to 300 miles north of land. Lee should begin its turn before reaching the Turks and Caicos.
Models are now suggesting that Lee will increase in intensity with sustained winds over 180 mph. That would make it one of the strongest storms ever in the Atlantic.
In 2015, Hurricane Patricia reached 215 mph over the eastern Pacific. Fortunately, Patricia underwent dramatic weakening before making landfall in Mexico as a still-powerful Category 4 storm.
NOAA had originally projected a lower than normal hurricane season, which is typical for years where the El Nino current is dominant. However, they have twiced revised that prediction and are now calling for an above average year.