Where Hurricane Lee is now, and where it might go
By Judson Jones
Hurricane Lee has grown in size as it continues to churn in the Atlantic, with an uncertain path that will likely include the east coasts of the United States or Canada this weekend.
Could Hurricane Lee hit the East Coast?
Authorities in Bermuda, hundreds of miles east of the Carolinas, issued a tropical storm warning for the island Tuesday, meaning that tropical storm conditions were expected in the area within about 36 hours.
Hurricane forecasters said earlier Tuesday that the core of the storm would probably pass near but to the west of Bermuda in a few days and move offshore of the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the weekend. It is expected to then pick up speed and make landfall late Saturday night into Sunday somewhere along the Maine or Nova Scotia shorelines.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center continue to warn that it is too early to know the level of impacts Lee might have along the Northeast U.S. coast and Atlantic Canada late this week and this weekend. Even in locations where landfall doesn’t occur, wind and rainfall hazards will extend well away from the center as Lee grows in size.
On Tuesday afternoon the forecast described it as a “very large hurricane” with hurricane-force winds extending out 125 miles from the center.
The probability that tropical storm-force winds will occur along parts of the mid-Atlantic and New England coastlines over the next five days continues to increase.
Dangerous surf conditions generated by the storm are already affecting parts of the Caribbean and Florida and will spread north along most of the U.S. East Coast, the hurricane center said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said Tuesday that she was deploying National Guard soldiers to prepare for the storm on Long Island “out of an abundance of caution.” She warned New Yorkers in coastal areas to watch the forecast and be prepared.
What is Lee’s current location and path?
As of Tuesday evening, Hurricane Lee was less than 500 miles south-southwest of Bermuda, the hurricane center said.
Lee had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, making it a Category 3 storm, and was moving northwest at 7 mph. Some weakening was expected over the next 48 hours, the hurricane center said.
There were no coastal watches or warnings in effect for the U.S. or Canada. Forecasters in Bermuda expect the brunt of Lee’s damaging winds to arrive Thursday into Friday.
The storm will then continue to move in the direction of New England and Nova Scotia, but there are still factors that could affect the forecast path. Lee was expected to generate hazardous surf and rip currents at beaches across the western Atlantic all week, the hurricane center said.
Why is Lee’s path so complicated?
Storms like to move along the path of least resistance. That path is typically toward low pressure. A high-pressure system to the north is currently steering the storm to the northwest, but that system is expected to shift east around the middle of the week. This shift will allow for the storm to travel north and accelerate in forward speed.
The forecast is becoming a little clearer over the next few days, however there is still uncertainty in the exact path of the storm as it nears landfall.
The main question is whether the high-pressure system restrengthens, which would likely push the storm back northwest toward the United States. Forecasters say that it is still too early to know.
Is it true the storm will weaken?
As Lee moves north it has to traverse the wake of this season’s other two major hurricanes, Idalia and Franklin. Hurricanes cause upwelling, drawing up cooler water from deeper ocean depths and in turn leaving a trail of cooler sea surface temperatures. The hurricane center forecasters believe that as Lee crosses the trail of those earlier storms it will gradually weaken through the middle of the week.
By this weekend, after it crosses the warm Gulf Stream, it will enter even cooler waters, and forecasters believe rapid weakening will occur. The storm may even transition into a more typical storm system with cold and warm fronts for affecting land.
While weakening is a good thing, it does mean the tropical storm-force winds will expand even further, meaning that even if landfall doesn’t happen in the U.S. the effects are still probable. If it moves too quickly and maintains hurricane intensity, those winds are also likely to expand well beyond the eye wall of the storm where they are normally constrained.
What has this year’s hurricane season been like so far?
We’re a little over halfway through the Atlantic hurricane season, which started June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted 12 to 17 named storms this year, a “near-normal” amount. On Aug. 10, NOAA officials revised their forecast upward, estimating 14 to 21 storms, and the past few weeks have been busy.
When it formed, Lee became the 12th named storm of this year’s Atlantic season. (And the 13th if you count an unnamed storm in January that experts at the hurricane center said should have been named.) Lee is also the eighth since Aug. 20, when two tropical storms, Emily and Franklin, formed. A week later, on Aug. 30, Tropical Storm Idalia made landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast as a Category 3 hurricane.
Tropical Storm Margot formed last week and strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Monday.
There is consensus among scientists that hurricanes are becoming more powerful because of climate change. Although there might not be more named storms overall, the likelihood of major hurricanes is increasing.