Hurricane Lee becomes rare storm to rapidly intensify from Cat 1 to Cat 5 in 24 hours


(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Lee, now a powerful Category 4 hurricane, is one of only a handful of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin during the satellite era to intensify by 85 mph or more within a 24-hour period.

The storm intensified more than twice the National Hurricane Center’s definition of rapid intensification. Rapid intensification is defined as a storm increasing in wind speed by 35 mph or more in 24 hours.

At 5 a.m. ET on Thursday, Lee was a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. Twenty-four hours later, Lee had strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane with whopping 165 mph winds.

Other notable storms to achieve this include Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the record Hurricane Wilma in 2005. In just 24 hours Wilma increased from 75 mph winds (a Category 1 hurricane) to 185 mph winds (a Category 5 hurricane).

Last week, Hurricane Idalia rapidly strengthened from 75 mph winds on Tuesday morning to 130 mph winds by Wednesday morning.

Warm water is a major reason for Lee’s rapid intensification; Lee is in waters that are 3 to 4 degrees above average.

Lack of wind shear in the atmosphere and Lee churning over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean are other important variables.

Water temperatures in the Atlantic are influenced by a number of factors, including the overall weather pattern, and human-amplified climate change due to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Lee weakened slightly to a Category 4 storm by Friday midday.

The storm is expected to move north of the Caribbean islands over the weekend and early next week, sparing them any direct impacts. However, rough surf and life-threatening rip currents are a growing concern for many islands in the region.

Long-range models can change over the next week, but they currently show Lee moving parallel to the eastern United States coastline. If Lee stays on that course, the East Coast would also be hit with rough surf and life-threatening rip currents throughout the upcoming week.

ABC News’ Ginger Zee and Dan Manzo contributed to this report.

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