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"Doomsday Storm" Lee May Impact East Coast

Rapid Intensification Expected to Occur, May Reach Near-Record Strength

Series: Weather | Story 12

The strongest Hurricane to form over the Atlantic basin in recent years may be in the offing as National Hurricane Center forecasters are predicting that now Tropical Storm Lee will strengthen into a fearsome Category Five Hurricane by the weekend, menacing the east coast of the United States with winds of 150 mph or more after a period of "explosive" intensification. That rapid rise in power is largely due to heated oceanic temperatures, as much as three degrees above normal, beneath the storm's path.

While the potential threat to Florida remains undetermined, the powerful cyclone could be deflected into the east coast by a blocking ridge of high pressure that some computer models depict at the end of their predictive runs.

At the present time Lee, which was only named yesterday, is a strong tropical storm still experiencing some east-northeast wind shear that is slowing its development. Nevertheless, the storm is expected to reach Hurricane intensity by later tonight.

The central barometric pressure in the storm, a defining measurement of strength, is expected to drop from 997 MB, or 29.44 inches to around 937 MB by the weekend.

According to the NHC, "even the global models like the GFS and ECMWF show explosive intensification and forecast Lee's minimum pressure to drop by more than 60 mb by the end of the forecast period." Such models are normally conservative by design, being weighted to climatological norms which often smooth out extreme dynamics.

Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, 882 MB, or 26.05 inches. Wilma became a Category 5 Hurricane with wind speeds of 185 mph (298 km/h) near the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Although it weakened shortly afterward, it caused major destruction when it passed over south Florida days later.

By comparison, Hurricane Andrew reached 175 mph winds in 1992 with a central (280 km/h) before its devastating impact on Homestead, Florida.

"Superstorm" Sandy was created by a decaying tropical cyclone that was absorbed into a baroclinic low pressure system moving southeast from the Great Lakes region, drawing the winds and destructive storm surge into an area of the US east coast that rarely experiences the big storms. New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of that storm, which flooded portions of the New york City subway.

The predicted arrangement of weather systems in the coming ten day period, while very tentative, instead shows the formation of a high pressure system that could potentially block the storm from a normal pole-ward path in the westerly winds that prevail north of latitude 30 degrees north. If that occurs the storm could be deflected westward toward the coast, threatening an area that includes the vulnerable coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. While that possibility remains highly-speculative at this time, the outside chance of such an occurrence should be enough to encourage residents to update their Hurricane plans.


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