Tropical Storm Lee strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane on Thursday, the latest benchmark the storm has rapidly reached over the record-hot waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The latest forecasts call for Lee to continue its fast-paced strengthening and become a Category 5 hurricane in the next few days as it barrels west, toward the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States.
Although the National Hurricane Center’s forecast only covers the next five days, long-range forecasting models have been in agreement that the storm could turn north next week before it approaches land. But exactly when it could turn, and if the models will bear out, remains to be seen.
“High confidence that the core of Hurricane Lee will miss the Caribbean islands to the north, and it’s looking more likely that it will stay offshore of the U.S. But extremely dangerous and scouring surf is likely on the East Coast,” Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist at Fox Weather, posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
Any impacts, including rough surf and outer rain bands, wouldn’t be felt in the U.S. until late next week at the earliest.
The hurricane center said Lee was already rapidly intensifying Thursday morning and was expected to continue strengthening over the next few days. By Friday, it could be a major Category 3 hurricane, and by Saturday it could be a Category 5 monster with 160 mph maximum sustained winds.
“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,” forecasters wrote.
The latest track appeared to keep Lee well north of the northernmost Caribbean islands, a shift from earlier forecasts.
Latest update on Hurricane Lee
As of the 11 a.m. Thursday update, Lee was about 870 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands with 105 mph maximum sustained winds. Its tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 90 miles from the center. Lee was moving toward the west-northwest near 15 mph.
“Large swells likely to reach the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this weekend,” the hurricane center said in its advisory.
When could Lee turn?
While the hurricane center’s cone of uncertainty extends only five days out, longer-term computer models have suggested Lee could make a northern turn before it approaches the U.S. East Coast.
But two of the most popular models, the European model and the Global Forecast System, differ on exactly when.
As of Thursday morning, the European model appeared to favor an early turn well north of Puerto Rico sometime Tuesday, and the American model, or GFS, was pointing toward a turn farther west well north of the Dominican Republic next Wednesday.