Hurricane Lee rapidly intensified into the season’s first Category 5 storm this week.
WASHINGTON — Hurricane Lee rapidly intensified into the season’s first Category 5 storm on September 7. It was also the third major hurricane of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, following Franklin and Idalia. A “major” hurricane is defined as a Category 3 or greater on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with sustained winds around the center of the storm of at least 111 mph.
Category 5 storms only form under the rarest of circumstances because they require ideal environmental and atmospheric conditions. They feature sustained winds of at least 157 mph with higher gusts. The rate at which Hurricane Lee rapidly intensified into one was very unusual.
Meteorologists define the rapid intensification of a hurricane as an increase in maximum sustained winds of at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period.
According to Colorado State University hurricane researcher, Dr. Philip Klotzbach, Hurricane Lee “…intensified by 80 mph in the past 24 hours. Six other Atlantic hurricanes in the satellite era have intensified by 80+ mph in 24 hours: Wilma (2005), Felix (2007), Ike (2008), Matthew (2016), Maria (2017), Eta (2020).”
Although all of these hurricanes didn’t impact the United States, they were all major storms.
Hurricane Lee also became the eighth Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since 2016. The other Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes to develop during the last seven years include: Matthew (2016), Irma (2017), Maria (2017), Michael (2018), Dorian (2019), Lorenzo (2019) and Ian (2022). Of that select group, only Hurricane Michael made landfall in the United States as a Category 5 storm.
Two primary things helped Hurricane Lee intensify as rapidly as it did. The first was the unusually warm water it tracked over in the tropical Atlantic. Favorable atmospheric winds also enabled it to strengthen into an elite hurricane.
Hurricane Lee has weakened below Category 5 status, but remains a dangerous and slow-moving storm. The National Hurricane Center expects it to remain a major hurricane for the next several days. There’s a high degree of uncertainty as to what Lee’s final track will be, so it’s important to follow the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and WUSA9.
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