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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hurricane Lee creates dangerous swells in PR

Hurricane Lee churns to the west-northwest as a Category 3 storm in the Sargasso Sea, north of the Lesser Antilles, on Saturday morning, Sept. 9, 2023. (NOAA via The New York Times)

By John McPhaul

Hurricane Lee charged through open waters northeast of the Caribbean on Sunday, creating heavy, dangerous swells on several islands, including Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico authorities urged the public to stay out of the water as the storm has created strong surf.

Swells generated by Lee are affecting portions of the Lesser Antilles, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and Bermuda.

The swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions, authorities warned. Dangerous surf and rip currents were expected to begin along much of the U.S. East Coast later Sunday and to worsen through this week, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

The Category 2 storm is not forecast to make landfall and is expected to stay over open waters through Friday.

After bottoming out on Sunday morning as a category 2 storm with 105-mile-per-hour (mph) winds, Lee was intensifying once more and was predicted to regain category 4 status by this evening, and make a sharp northward turn by the middle of the week, taking it on a path toward Atlantic Canada. Weakening was predicted again beginning on Tuesday afternoon.

On Sunday morning, the was centered about 280 miles (450 kilometers) northeast of the northern Leeward Islands. Its maximum sustained winds had decreased to 105 mph (165 kph) and it was moving west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Last week, Lee strengthened from a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 storm in just one day before weakening to Category 2 over the weekend.

“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 NHC said.

One version of a model released last weekend suggested that the U.S. East Coast could be hit, a possibility that has lingered in the minds of some forecasters and amateur weather watchers, in part because of widespread social media hype.

But when you look at all the versions of the model, there is not an overwhelming consensus on where the center of the hurricane will go after this weekend, with some outliers close to the East Coast.

Sometimes, multiple models are displayed on a single map with lines that plot where that computer simulation believes the center of the storm will be five, seven or even 14 days out.

Known as spaghetti models, these mapped model outputs get their name from their resemblance to long strands of pasta.

The closer the lines are to one another, the more confidence it gives forecasters in what the storm might do. For the next few days, there is a pretty reliable consensus that the storm will track northwest.

Meanwhile, FEMA encouraged island residents to be prepared for peak hurricane season, which started Saturday. With two tropical cyclones powerfully churning in the Atlantic Ocean that will not affect the Caribbean directly, FEMA officials encouraged Puerto Rico residents to get their families and property ready, today, FEMA said Sunday.

If all inhabitants take timely preparedness measures, it will enhance the emergency response and recovery process, FEMA said.

“Along with the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau and the National Weather Service in San Juan, we keep reminding our communities that taking all necessary steps and having emergency plans in place is the right thing to do now,” said Orlando Olivera, FEMA’s Caribbean area office coordinator in Puerto Rico. “Talk with your family about your emergency plans. Include your neighbors, especially the elderly ones that may need your support, and discuss how you can help each other before and after a disaster. Joining preparedness efforts can ease the recovery process.”

FEMA’s 2023 preparedness campaign theme, “Take Control in 1, 2, 3,” encourages everyone, especially older adults, to become more prepared in three simple steps:

Assess your needs. Everyone has unique needs. There are several factors that can affect the steps you need to take to prepare yourself and those you care for. Whether you care for pets, have children, have a medical condition or have a disability, it is important to know what your family will need to stay safe.

Make a plan. Once you’ve assessed your needs, you can plan for what you’d do, where you’d go and what to bring if a disaster strikes. Your emergency supply kit should include items that meet your individual needs.

Engage your support network. Get to know your neighbors because they, along with your family and friends, can be a support network before, during and after a disaster by providing emotional and practical support.

Additional information is available at and, which offer tools and resources to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergency events.

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