Hurricane Lee’s Changing Course and Potential Impact on the U.S. East Coast

Hurricane Lee, which had intensified rapidly into a Category 5 storm, has undergone a significant weakening, now being categorized as a Category 3 hurricane, as per the latest report from the National Hurricane Center. Although it’s not as formidable as before, it is still considered a major hurricane, and its potential impact on the U.S. East Coast is being closely monitored.

The National Hurricane Center cautions that while Hurricane Lee has weakened, it is expected to remain a powerful hurricane in the coming days, with the possibility of fluctuations in intensity. One of the primary concerns associated with Hurricane Lee is the development of dangerous surf and rip currents along most of the U.S. East Coast, anticipated to begin as early as Sunday.

As of the latest update at 11 p.m. EDT on Friday, Hurricane Lee had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. This represents a significant reduction from its previous peak of 150 mph earlier in the day. The storm’s center was approximately 440 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, and it was tracking west-northwest at a speed of 13 mph over the Atlantic Ocean. The Leeward Islands, situated at the meeting point of the Caribbean Sea and the western Atlantic Ocean, were already experiencing large ocean swells generated by Lee.

These ocean swells have begun to impact the Lesser Antilles and are projected to reach other regions, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Hispaniola over the weekend. The National Hurricane Center warns that these swells are likely to result in life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. However, the center’s forecast indicates that Lee’s center is expected to pass “well to the north” of these islands, reducing the risk of direct impact.

One of the primary challenges in predicting Lee’s path is its long-term trajectory. Meteorologists are diligently monitoring the hurricane for any signs that it might shift its course and potentially turn towards the U.S. coastline. There is currently uncertainty about the specific path that Hurricane Lee will follow.

David Parkinson, a senior weather and climate producer at CBS News, highlights that while Lee is expected to weaken further, the exact path it will take remains uncertain. He notes that the chances of Lee making landfall are relatively low for most regions along the U.S. East Coast, with clearer forecasts expected by the middle of the upcoming week.

Parkinson outlines a couple of potential scenarios. One possibility is the development of a cold front along the East Coast, which could trap Hurricane Lee and push it northward, bringing stormy weather to coastal areas. Alternatively, if no cold front forms, Hurricane Lee could continue over the open ocean for a longer duration before potentially affecting Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. In this latter scenario, the hurricane may significantly weaken.

Meteorologist Chris Warren from The Weather Channel emphasizes that regardless of Lee’s path, it will produce large waves and dangerous rip currents along the entire East Coast. These conditions pose risks to coastal communities and beachgoers.

Lee’s rapid intensification from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane within a short span is noteworthy. Initially, it was a tropical storm with sustained winds of 65 mph, which quickly escalated to a Category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of 74 mph. Subsequently, it rapidly progressed from a Category 2 to a Category 4 and ultimately achieved Category 5 status, with sustained wind speeds exceeding 157 mph.

Meteorologists classify storms falling within Categories 3, 4, or 5 as “major” hurricanes due to their potential for causing significant loss of life and extensive damage. The National Hurricane Center underscores that Category 4 and 5 hurricanes making landfall can result in catastrophic damage.

As of now, no storm or hurricane watches or warnings have been issued for regions that might be in Lee’s path. This development comes shortly after Hurricane Idalia wreaked havoc across the Southeast, making landfall in Florida and causing widespread destruction as it moved northeastward.

The impacts of Hurricane Idalia included severe damage to homes, power outages, and flooding in several areas. Tragically, the storm claimed lives in both Florida and Georgia. Economically, the damage and lost economic activity associated with Idalia are estimated to range between $12 to $20 billion, according to Moody’s Analytics.

In conclusion, while Hurricane Lee has weakened from its Category 5 status, it remains a major hurricane with the potential to impact the U.S. East Coast. Meteorologists are closely monitoring the storm’s development and trajectory, and it is crucial for residents in potentially affected areas to stay informed and prepared for possible changes in its path.

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