Hurricane Lee Strengthens To Cat. 4 At ‘Exceptional Rate’—Will Become Rare Cat. 5 Within Hours, Forecasters Say


Hurricane Lee continued to gain strength over the Atlantic throughout Thursday and shot right from a Category 2 storm to a Category 4 storm in a late afternoon update from the National Hurricane Center, with forecasts predicting it will become a Category 5 hurricane within 12 hours and impacts could begin affecting the mainland U.S. by Sunday.

Key Facts

In its 5 p.m. EDT advisory Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Lee had strengthened “at an exceptional rate,” jumping to a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph; the NHC warned rip currents and hazardous surf will “spread across the Northern Caribbean” on Friday and reach most of the East Coast by Sunday evening.

The storm is expected to have 160 mph winds by early Friday morning—making it a Category 5, and it’s forecast to strengthen even more throughout the day.

Dangerous surf and life-threatening rip currents will also likely impact Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas over the weekend.

In Thursday morning’s update from the Hurricane Center, maximum sustained wind speeds were 105 mph—up from 75 mph on Wednesday evening and 85 mph earlier on Thursday.

Forecasts suggest the hurricane will pass to the north of the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this weekend and into early next week, though “life-threatening” surf and rip current conditions will be a threat far from the storm’s center.

Crucial Quote

“There is uncertainty in any northward turn of Lee beginning early next week, but it is too soon to speculate about specific potential impacts a week or more out,” the National Hurricane Center said, though the storm is expected to stay well off the East Coast for the time being.

Big Number

130 mph. That’s how fast the sustained wind speed of a hurricane must be to be deemed Category 4 under the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Category 4 continues through 156 mph speeds. According to the NHC, a Category 4 storm will cause “catastrophic damage” in an area where it makes landfall, meaning power outages could last weeks to possibly months and most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks.

What To Watch For

The National Hurricane Center cautioned that there isn’t yet “indication that Lee’s intensification is stopping,” and that the probability of more short-term rapid intensification is still very high. The next update from the NHC will come at 11 p.m. EDT.

Key Background

Research suggests that warmer ocean temperatures are likely to cause more severe storms and recent reports show that parts of the Atlantic are experiencing hot tub level surface temperatures. Climate scientists have warned that the extreme weather events recorded across the northern hemisphere this year are a direct result of human-driven climate change. The severity and speed of Hurricane Idalia, which hit Florida’s Gulf Coast last week and potentially caused up to $20 billion in damage across the state, was also attributed to high ocean temperatures.

Further Reading

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