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

Hurricane Lee, now a powerful Category 3 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.

As of Saturday afternoon, Hurricane Lee is a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. It is moving to the WNW at 10 mph, and the center is located about 300 miles NE of the northern Leeward Islands.

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.

Less favorable atmospheric conditions in place for much of Friday has led to a recent weakening of Lee as wind shear and dry air is contributing to this trend and is expected to persist for at least another 12 to 24 hours.

MORE: Hurricane Lee now a Category 4: Projected path, maps and tracker

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).

MORE: Hurricane preparedness tips and resources to help keep your family safe

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.

PHOTO: Hurricane Lee is only one of a handful of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin during the satellite era to intensify by 85 mph or more within a 24-hour period. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Hurricane Lee is only one of a handful of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin during the satellite era to intensify by 85 mph or more within a 24-hour period. (ABC News)

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.

PHOTO: Hurricane Lee, churning over the Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA)
PHOTO: Hurricane Lee, churning over the Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA)

Lee weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm by Friday night.

Gradual restrengthening should get underway on Sunday as the unfavorable atmospheric conditions impacting Lee are likely to ease. Lee is forecast to reach category 4 strength for the second time on Monday and then start a gradual weakening trend by the middle of next week.

Large swells from Lee will impact the northeastern Caribbean Islands this weekend and into early next week as it passes well to the north. There will be no direct impacts to the Caribbean Islands. Rough surf, big waves and dangerous rip currents are a growing concern from the Leeward Islands to Puerto Rico and eventually Hispaniola, mainly the north-facing shorelines. Later this weekend, these impacts reach Turks and Caicos and parts of The Bahamas.

As Lee continues to trek northward across the western Atlantic next week, the threats of big waves, rough surf, and dangerous rip currents will gradually shift northward up along the East Coast as the week progresses.

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

Hurricane Lee becomes rare storm to rapidly intensify from Cat 1 to Cat 5 in 24 hours originally appeared on abcnews.go.com