Sharp winds from the southwest caused Hurricane Lee to experience a marked reduction in intensityso in the 11:00 pm bulletin on National Hurricane Center (CNH) the atmospheric phenomenon became a category 3 cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The most recent CNH report highlighted that Lee now boasts maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (mph), although it remains a major hurricane (intensity three or greater). hurricane hunter aircraft United States Air Force and of the National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the eye lost part of its structure and symmetry, along with a reduction in its diameter, changes that began this Friday morning.
In the 5:00 pm interim bulletin, Lee was counting on maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.
The bulletin highlights that Lee’s eye was at latitude 19.3 degrees North, longitude 56.5 degrees West, about 440 miles north of the Leeward Islands, and with a travel speed of 13 mph to the west-northwest. Hurricane trackers also revealed that the central minimum pressure increased to 963 millibars (mb).
Despite this reduction in intensity, the CNH emphasized that Lee will remain a major hurricane into next week.
Hurricane-force winds extend to about 30 miles from its center, another reduction from the 5:00 PM bulletin, when hurricane-force winds extended up to 35 miles. While tropical storm force winds reach up to 175 miles from the vortex.
In this report, the NHC reduced its forecast and, for now, rules out the possibility of the phenomenon reaching sustained winds of 180 mph. However, some models continue to show this possibility.
The agency also clarified that Lee will continue over warm waters that could prompt rapid intensification again, so the intensity forecast may be erratic.
According to the 5:00 pm interim bulletin, the eye was located at latitude 18.9 degrees North and longitude 55.5 degrees West, about 500 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands. The hurricane is moving to the west-northwest at about 13 mph. “On the forecast track, Lee is expected to pass well north of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico over the weekend and into early next week,” the bulletin states.
There are no surveillance or warning products issued for any territory in the event of the hurricane. In general, the trajectory of this system should lead it to remain over Atlantic waters without making landfall, at least in the medium term.
This system is expected to generate life-threatening maritime and coastal conditions from this weekend and until the middle of next week, in Puerto Rico. The deterioration in conditions could endanger even the most experienced swimmers, so this is not the time for any bather to be on the beaches.
He National Weather Service (SNM) in San Juan issued a warning to operators of small boats for offshore waters in the Atlantic for swells that could fluctuate between 6 to 12 feet in height. Meanwhile, winds can fluctuate between 10 to 20 knots with stronger gusts. This product will be in effect from 8:00 am Saturday until 4:00 am next Tuesday, subject to modifications if necessary.
“Swells generated by Lee are expected to reach portions of the Lesser Antilles later today, and reach the British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, and Bermuda this weekend. These surges are likely to cause life-threatening wave conditions and ocean currents,” the NHC warned.
At its closest point to Puerto Rico, the eye of Hurricane Lee would pass about 300-350 miles north of San Juan. That “closest point” would occur sometime between late Monday and Tuesday of next week.
Lee became the first Category 5 hurricane to form this year in the Atlantic. The last Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic was Ian, which developed in September of last year.
Carlos Tolentino Rosario is a journalist who covers weather, climate change and science, among others. He holds a certification in weather forecasting from the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences at Pennsylvania State University (PSU). He is also a member of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).