TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tropical Storm Lee has strengthed into Hurricane Lee as it churned through the open waters of the Atlantic Wednesday, following on a path that would take it near the northeast Caribbean.
The hurricane, the 12th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was located about 1,130 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and was moving west-northwest at 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
By the weekend, the NHC said Lee will likely be a major hurricane. So-called “steering currents,” as well as warm waters and weak wind shear, will have an influence on Lee’s impact on the U.S.
Current projections show it not making landfall but passing just northeast of the British Virgin Islands, which is still recovering from hurricanes Maria and Irma in September 2017.
“It has the potential to become a powerhouse Category 5 hurricane, the strongest hurricane of the year,” said Jonathan Porter, chief meteorologist for AccuWeather.
Though the storm’s exact track is still uncertain, WFLA Meteorologist Rebecca Barry said, “The important part is it’s making that turn to the north. We know stronger storms tend to make that turn earlier and we’ve also got some steering currents out there that are helping guide that system to the north.”
“We’ve also got the jet stream coming off of the southeast of the US and that’s going to make it a pathway for this system to go,” Barry added.
“The worst environment that it’s going to face over the next four to five days is right now with its weak shear. Conditions are only expected to get better here,” WKRG Chief Meteorologist Ed Bloodsworth said. “We could be talking about a very strong – maybe even a high-end Category 4 hurricane even if it doesn’t make any kind of direct landfall.”
In August, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast and warned that this year’s hurricane season would be above normal. Between 14 and 21 named storms are forecast. Of those, six to 11 could become hurricanes, with two to five of them possibly becoming major hurricanes.
In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Jova continued strengthening well off the southwest coast of Mexico but posed no threat to land. Jova had 70 mph winds and was forecast to become a hurricane Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was about 675 miles south of the southern tip of Baja California and moving west-northwest at 9 mph.
It was expected to become a major hurricane by Wednesday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.