National Hurricane Center expects Tropical Storm Lee to intensify rapidly

What this morning was tropical depression 13 of this year, this afternoon became, as predicted, the Tropical Storm Leevalidated the National Hurricane Center (NHC, in English), in its most recent bulletin, which indicates that the phenomenon increased its winds to 50 miles per hour (mph).

The 11:00 pm bulletin highlights that the system was 1,230 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, specifically at latitude 13.5 degrees north and longitude 43.0 degrees west, and with a central pressure of 1003 millibars (MB). .

The agency added that they expect Lee to become a hurricane as early as tomorrow (Wednesday) night and to become a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) by this Friday.

For now, There are no surveillance or warning products issued for any territory in relation to this atmospheric phenomenonalthough the federal agency urged the Leeward Islands to monitor the development of this system.

In its most recent bulletin for this cyclone, the NHC stated that Strengthening is expected and Lee is forecast to become a hurricane tomorrow night and a major hurricane on Friday. At that time, Lee would be on record as the fourth hurricane to form in the tropical Atlantic basin during 2023.

However, as pointed out this morning The new daythe federal agency projected that in the long term this phenomenon would reach force majeure (category 3 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale) due to the favorable environmental conditions it will encounter on its route through the tropical Atlantic.

In fact, contrary to previous occasions, the NHC prognosis does not seem very conservativebut rather aligns more with the consensus among major global and regional models that project Lee as a hurricane with winds at or above 120 mph between Saturday and Sunday.

If it reaches category 3, the future hurricane would be the third major hurricane to develop this year. The two intense hurricanes recorded so far this year are Franklin and Idalia.

What move should this system take?

Since leaving Africa, this system has been moving generally westward and west-northwestward, and should continue to do so in the coming days. In fact, its current movement is toward the west and west-northwest at a rate of 15 mph.

However, this movement is subject to intensification, since as it strengthens, the phenomenon could have a movement with a component more towards the north, so it would move directly towards the west-northwest.

Graph showing the forecast of the main models with respect to the trajectory of the tropical wave identified as AL95. Image created in the early morning of September 5, 2023. (NCAR)

Precisely, that is the scenario projected, for the moment, by the main global and regional models, which suggest that it will pass to the northeast of the Caribbean at the end of this week.

The NHC even predicted its official trajectory based on the consensus among the main models and, so far, Puerto Rico is outside the cone of uncertainty, although relatively close. With the current projection, the center of circulation (or future eye) of this system would pass between 250 to 300 statute miles (about 443 kilometers) northeast of San Juan.

Uncertainty would be reduced to the extent that reconnaissance flights are initiated by hurricane hunter aircraft that can take direct data that are added to the model runs. So far, all projections are based on satellite estimates, which carry wide margins of error.

In the hurricane hunter aircraft agenda, the NHC stipulated that there is the possibility of assigning a reconnaissance flight for next Thursday at around 7:30 p.m.

What to expect from this system in Puerto Rico?

At the moment, it is not responsible to propose a single scenario for the island with the information available at the moment and given the imprecision of the forecast.

However, regardless of the movement of this phenomenon and its intensity, the models have remained consistent in suggesting an increase in humidity for the local area over the coming weekend. Therefore, the island is likely to experience a period of unsettled weather, with shower and thunderstorm activity, beginning Saturday and potentially into Tuesday of next week, as the future hurricane’s moisture field affects the local area.

The day of showers could be accompanied by thunderstorms and gusty winds with tropical storm intensity (at or above 40 mph).

In fact, the NHC’s first wind probability forecast suggests that, on the current track, Puerto Rico would have a 5 to 20 percent chance of experiencing tropical storm-force winds. These estimates will change as the trajectory is adjusted.

Graph showing the forecast of the main models with respect to the intensity of the tropical wave identified as AL95.  Image created in the early morning of September 5, 2023.
Graph showing the forecast of the main models with respect to the intensity of the tropical wave identified as AL95. Image created in the early morning of September 5, 2023. (NCAR)

Additionally, waves in local waters exposed to the Atlantic Ocean could deteriorate as the phenomenon passes close to the area. The impact on coastal and maritime conditions could be significantbecause the NHC has already validated that this phenomenon can be an intense hurricane and the energy associated with the system would result in a strong storm surge in the region.

Remember that you should not consume information from unreliable sources (especially on social networks) that propose a unique scenario for Puerto Rico in relation to this phenomenon, because no scenario is certain. This factor is important, since some models simulate the worst scenario of an atmospheric phenomenon and any misinterpretation or visualization of these images without proper analysis can generate despair.

Follow official sources of information such as National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service (SNM) in San Juan. Additionally, you will find all the details you need in the The Time of The New Day.

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).

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