Hurricane Lee exploded into an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane on Thursday and is expected to strengthen into one of the strongest Atlantic Hurricanes on record — if not the strongest ever. The storm’s wind speed doubled from 80 to 160 mph in just 18 hours — the official threshold for rapid intensification is an increase of 35 mph over 24 hours — just the seventh observed hurricane to intensify so rapidly.
Climate change is driving an increase in the frequency of rapidly intensifying hurricanes, and Lee’s breakneck intensification was fueled by record-hot ocean temperatures locally exceeding 85°F. Lee is currently churning over open ocean about 700 miles from the northern Caribbean and while it is expected to turn north, the point at which it will do so is not known and could bring the storm dangerously close to New England. (Washington Post $, AP, New York Times $; Path forecast: Washington Post $; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes, Sea surface temperature increase)