Lee now a tropical storm, expected to become ‘extremely dangerous’ hurricane, forecasters say

National Hurricane Center/National Hurricane Center/TNS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tropical Storm Lee is gaining strength in the Atlantic and likely well develop into an “extremely dangerous” hurricane with wind speeds of 145 mph by the end of the week as it travels west toward the Caribbean and Bahamas, forecasters said Tuesday.

It would be the fourth hurricane of the 2023 Atlantic season.

The system is currently 1,315 miles east of the eastern Caribbean, moving west-northwest at 16 mph with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would become a hurricane by Thursday morning, and a major hurricane with wind speeds greater than 111 mph by Friday afternoon.

Its trajectory has it headed in the general direction of the Bahamas and potentially Florida.

It was too early to know exactly how close the system will get to the islands of the eastern Caribbean, the National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. Eastern time update said. The current cone indicating the probable path of the eye of the storm sits just north of Puerto Rico.

Several forecasting models show the storm steering north at some point. It remains unclear when, exactly, that would happen, and where that would place the storm. A sharp turn north would take the storm away from South Florida.

“The high pressure to the north of it, that’s what’s going to steer it,” said Anthony Reynes, senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Miami.

“Tropical systems, they cannot go against the flow of the high pressure, they have to go around it ... once it moves to the north of Puerto Rico, it’s going to start shifting more to the north and eventually northeast. The cyclone is moving around the edge of that high.”

There also will be a low pressure trough moving east over the U.S. that should also contribute to the northward motion of the storm, he said.

The system will be traveling over record-warm water, close to 86 degrees. Therefore, “all indications are that the depression will become a strong hurricane by the end of the forecast period,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Their long-range forecast said winds could reach 145 mph.

It was “more organized” Tuesday, producing showers and thunderstorms about 900 miles west-southwest of Africa’s Cabo Verde Islands.

As of Tuesday, there have been three Atlantic hurricanes this season — Don, Franklin and Idalia, the latter two of which were major hurricanes.

Another tropical depression could form later in the week or next weekend from a tropical wave set to emerge off Africa and move toward the central tropical Atlantic. As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, its odds of developing were at 70% within seven days, and 30% within two days.

Meanwhile, the remnants of Hurricane Franklin were given a 20% chance of “developing some subtropical or tropical characteristics” in the next seven days over the warm waters near Portugal.

Tropical Storms Katia and Gert dissipated Monday.

The National Hurricane Center, which operates under the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, has forecast 14 to 21 named storms, including six to 11 hurricanes, and two to five major hurricanes.

The National Hurricane Center has been predicting an “above-normal” 2023 hurricane season as a result of ongoing record-breaking sea surface temperatures that continue to fight off the tempering effects of El Niño.

While sea-surface temperatures have remained hot for longer than anticipated, El Niño’s effects, which typically reduce hurricane chances, have emerged more slowly.