On Thursday night, Hurricane Lee strengthened “at an exceptional rate” after swiftly moving up several storm categories during the previous few hours. It became a Category 5 hurricane just before 11 p.m. ET, according to a post by the National Hurricane Centre.
The big picture: This weekend, the dangerous hurricane is expected to pass over the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico while perhaps slowing down east-northeast of the Bahamas.
This is the first instance in which the NHC predicted a hurricane would only be a Category 2 storm when it would eventually become a Category 5 storm.
Some computer simulations predict that the storm will strengthen into one of the strongest, if not the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin. This is a definite consequence of the ocean being unusually warm. These are related to favourable atmospheric conditions and human-caused climate change.
At 5 a.m. ET on Thursday, Lee had 80 mph winds and was a Category 1 hurricane. By the time it reached 130 mph after 12 hours, its maximum sustained winds had grown to Category 4, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale of wind intensity.
By 11 p.m. ET, the storm had 160 mph maximum sustained winds and was moving 705 miles to the west-northwest at a speed of 14 mph.
“The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters have found that Lee has skyrocketed to Category 5 strength,” according to an NHC forecast discussion.
According to the NHC, the storm’s maximum sustained winds grew by a little over 80 mph in 24 hours. The rise in speed well exceeds the threshold of 35 mph required to qualify as a rapid intensification.
According to the most recent NHC projection, the storm’s top sustained winds will be 180 mph.
The intrigue: This storm’s track warrants great attention because it is forecast to be quite powerful.
The Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico would avoid any substantial damage since, according to the most recent NHC projection, it would stay far enough north of those locations.
Hurricane Lee will travel through some of the Atlantic’s warmest waters during the next three days, giving the storm energy to strengthen.
According to the NHC, rip currents are predicted to start hitting areas of the northern Caribbean on Friday, and high seas and hazardous surf will pose the most dangers from Lee during the next days.
Yes, however the NHC warned that the storm might still have a more direct impact on the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico given typical storm track deviations thus far in advance.
“It is way too soon to know what level of impacts, if any, Lee might have along the U.S. East Coast, Atlantic Canada, or Bermuda late next week, particularly since the hurricane is expected to slow down considerably over the southwestern Atlantic,” the agency said late Thursday.
“Regardless, dangerous surf and rip currents are expected along most of the U.S. East Coast beginning Sunday. Continue to monitor updates to Lee’s forecast during the next several days.”
Zoom in: East of the Lesser Antilles, the storm is expected to meander over waters that will set a new record for warmth by at least 86°F. This should allow the hurricane to intensify swiftly and reach the highest point on the Saffir-Simpson scale, assuming that other conditions permit it.
“The question doesn’t appear to be if rapid intensification continues, but rather how strong Lee will get, and how quickly will it get there. Many of the models are calling for remarkable rates of intensification, beyond rates normally seen with model forecasts,” the NHC stated.
Studies reveal that rapid intensification is becoming prevalent and pronounced when air and sea temperatures rise as a result of human-caused climate change. Rapid intensification is often observed in the fiercest hurricanes.