Hurricane Lee has reached the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, as it moves closer to the Caribbean islands, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm, which was a Category 1 hurricane just 24 hours ago, has undergone a rapid intensification over the record-warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Lee poses a threat to the eastern Caribbean
The NHC said in its 11 p.m. ET advisory on Thursday that Lee was located about 700 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 12 mph. The hurricane is expected to maintain its strength or even intensify further in the next few days, as it encounters favorable environmental conditions.
Lee could approach the eastern Caribbean by this weekend, bringing dangerous surf and rip currents, as well as tropical storm conditions, to some of the islands that were already devastated by Hurricane Idalia last week. The NHC advised residents of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to monitor the progress of Lee closely and follow any instructions from local authorities.
Lee’s track and potential impact on the US are uncertain
The future track and intensity of Lee are still uncertain, as several factors will influence its movement and evolution. One of them is an area of high pressure over the Atlantic, known as the Bermuda High, which will steer Lee west-northwestward for the next few days. However, as the high pressure weakens early next week, Lee will likely turn northward and slow down.
The timing and sharpness of this turn will determine how close Lee will get to the US mainland. Some computer models suggest that Lee could stay well offshore, while others show a possible landfall or a close brush along the East Coast. The NHC said that it is too soon to determine what, if any, direct impacts Lee could have on the US.
Lee is not alone in the busy Atlantic basin
Lee is not the only storm that is active in the Atlantic right now. Tropical Storm Margot, which formed on Thursday morning, is located a few hundred miles west of the Cabo Verde Islands, with winds of 40 mph. Margot is expected to become a hurricane over the weekend, but it will likely turn northward and stay over open waters.
The Atlantic hurricane season has been very active this year, with 13 named storms, six hurricanes and four major hurricanes so far. The season runs from June 1 to November 30, but it typically peaks around mid-September. The NHC urges everyone to be prepared for hurricanes and have a plan in case of an emergency.