TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Hurricane Lee remains a major hurricane Saturday as it continues its northwestward path through the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Lee was listed a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph on Saturday morning. It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph.
Located more than 300 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands, Lee is expected to continue its current path as it slows down early next week.
Several Caribbean nations will experience swells from the hurricane, but Lee will be traveling “well to the north of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico into early next week,” the NHC said.
As it continues getting closer to the United States, however, forecasters say any potential impacts will depend on when it will turn.
“The critical day will come Wednesday as Lee is expected to turn north, away from Florida,” Amanda Holly, meteorologist with Nexstar’s WFLA, said. “The timing of this turn is still somewhat in question. Although it is expected to turn well before it reaches the Bahamas and Florida, a slightly later turn could lead to impacts along the east or northeast coast of the United States, but it is too early to say what or where.”
Last week, Lee shattered the standard for what meteorologists call rapid intensification — when a hurricane’s sustained winds increase by 35 mph (56 kph) in 24 hours.
“This one increased by 80 mph (129 kph),” said Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program and a past president of the American Meteorological Society. “I can’t emphasize this enough — we used to have this metric of 35 mph, and here’s a storm that did twice that amount and we’re seeing that happen more frequently.”
This type of intensification, forecasters say, could also be a dreadful harbinger of what is to come as ocean temperatures climb, spawning fast-growing major hurricanes that could threaten communities farther north and farther inland.
Aside from Hurricane Lee, Tropical Storm Margot is on track to become the season’s next hurricane as it continues heading west-northwest at 143 mph in the tropical eastern Atlantic. As of a 5 a.m. update on Saturday, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, but is expected to gain strength into early next week.
The NHC’s map predicts Margot will become a hurricane Monday afternoon but not before it makes a turn north into the middle of the Atlantic, keeping it away from the United States.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.