On Tuesday, the 13th tropical depression of the season developed in the eastern Atlantic. Where previous such depressions have led to “fish storms” (hurricanes that blow themselves out before threatening areas of land), there were immediate concerns that this time around America wouldn’t be so lucky.
That depression has now become Tropical Storm Lee. It looks almost certain to become a major hurricane in the next few days. While most predictions still have the storm executing a last-minute right turn to avoid the United States, there is a strong possibility that Hurricane Lee could still create high winds and severe waves along a long section of the East Coast. There’s even a remote possibility that Lee will make landfall in an area of the coast where such storms are rare.
And since it looks like it will be a Category 4 or 5 storm, no one should take their eyes off of Lee.
Looking at the current projection of Lee’s track over the next few days (see the image at the top of the article), it would be easy to believe that it might slam into the coast of Georgia or the Carolinas. Some earlier tracks projected exactly that. However, a set of high-pressure zones are engaged in a dance around the Caribbean in the next few days. Those zones are expected to create a “trough” that steers Lee northward and flips its path nearly 90 degrees in time to avoid impacting the East Coast, according to WFLA-TV’s chief meteorologist, Jeff Berardelli.
Over the past 24 hours, tracks on the European model have swung slightly to the west, suggesting that Lee might still find a way to reach land, but the vast majority of predictions are still pointing toward open water.
As meteorologist Noah Bergren warns, it’s too early to write Lee off:
One thing that gives me a pause is that strong Atlantic ridge of high pressure in the box. Anytime I see something like that raises my eyebrows for New England. Models though are all over the place with that ridge strength and position.
Currently, the largest number of paths suggest that Lee will pass north of Puerto Rico, hook right over a hundred miles from the U.S. coast, and move north-northeast to threaten Bermuda before going out to sea. Only a few projections still have it making a landfall somewhere north of New York.
That’s a huge change from just a few days ago when some models had Lee staying further south, avoiding areas of windsheer, and growing into a truly massive storm that tested the limits of Category 5 before running headlong into the southern coast.
But just because things look relatively safe at the moment, don’t forget that these models are just that—models. Imperfect models. And they’ve been wrong before.
With the intensity that Lee appears likely to develop, no one should be looking away.
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