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Tropical Storm Lee will soon be a major hurricane — with 145 mph winds or more

Tropical Storm Lee has developed in the Atlantic Ocean, and meteorologists predict that it will undergo rapid intensification, potentially becoming a major hurricane by the weekend.

In the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Tropical Storm Lee is reported to have sustained winds of 45 mph and is currently tracking toward the Leeward Islands. Forecasts are expressing growing concern about the storm’s potential for rapid intensification.

“It is becoming a question of when and not if rapid intensification occurs with Lee,” the NHC advisory stated. Projections suggest that Lee’s winds could escalate to 145 mph, reaching Category 4 status, which signifies a “major hurricane.” This marks a 5 mph increase from the initial advisory earlier in the day. The key factor contributing to this expected intensification is the unusually warm water temperatures in the Atlantic region where the storm is situated. These temperatures are akin to what is typically found in the Gulf of Mexico, rather than the cooler Atlantic Ocean.

The fact that this forecast is predicting such rapid strengthening at this early stage in the Atlantic Ocean is unusual. However, it’s important to note that the exact trajectory of the storm remains uncertain.

Current long-range models suggest that Lee may eventually curve north, avoiding the Caribbean and staying offshore from the United States. Although these models are generally reliable, they are not infallible. Hurricane Irma in 2017, for instance, was initially projected to follow a similar path but ended up making landfall on the Gulf coast of Florida.

Lee marks the 13th named storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which has been above average in terms of storm activity. According to hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach, only four other years on record have seen 13 or more Atlantic named storms by September 5: 2005, 2011, 2012, and 2020.

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