Hurricane Lee regains power and is expected to again hit Category 4 strength

Hurricane Lee regained Category 3 strength late Sunday afternoon, its top winds reaching 120 mph, according to the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane center increased its forecast for the storm’s future power, calling for top winds to hit 140 mph by Monday afternoon, putting the storm at Category 4 strength.

The storm is still forecast to turn north in the next few days, well offshore of the United States east coast, although the hurricane center’s prediction extends only through Friday. By then it is expected to have weakened, although it will still be at hurricane strength.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Lee was about 285 miles north-northeast of the northeastern Caribbean islands, moving west-northwest at 8 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Lee had been a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph early Thursday, but by late that night, its top wind speed had spiked to 160 mph, making it a colossus Category 5 storm. By early Friday, Lee’s maximum sustained winds intensified to 165 mph before declining.

“Lee seems to be recovering from the effects of the strong southwesterly shear,” according to the hurricane center. “The central dense overcast has expanded, with periodic bursts of deep convection and increased lightning activity near the center.”

Lee is expected to pass well to the north of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Lee’s curve north will spare Florida, according to the forecast.

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“It remains too soon to know what level of impacts, if any, Lee might have along the U.S. East Coast, Atlantic Canada, or Bermuda late next week, particularly since the hurricane is expected to slow down considerably over the southwestern Atlantic,” forecasters wrote in the 5 p.m. advisory Saturday.

The hurricane center warned that “dangerous surf and rip currents are expected to begin along most of the U.S. East Coast beginning Sunday and Monday.”

The weather service added that South Florida beaches will experience “deteriorating beach and boating conditions” by the middle of next week with a likely risk of deadly rip currents starting as soon as Monday. As Lee gradually builds swells during the week, there could be some minor beach erosion from rough surf pounding against shore at high tide.

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Lee is the fourth Atlantic hurricane of the 2023 season, behind Don, Franklin and Idalia, and the third major hurricane, meaning Category 3 or above. Franklin and Idalia were major hurricanes.

Forecasters are also watching for two disturbances in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean, one with a 20% chance of development in the next two to seven days, the other with a 40% chance over the next week.

The one nearest to North America, which has a 20% chance, is expected to move slowly west. The farther one is forecast to move faster, at 15-20 mph, on a west-northwest track.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Margot is expected to become a hurricane in the next few days, forecasters said Sunday. If so, it would become the season’s fifth.

The storm formed over the eastern tropical Atlantic on Thursday, and is forecast to turn north, not currently a threat to South Florida.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles from the center as of 11 a.m. Sunday.

The season officially runs from through Nov. 30.