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Hurricane watch issued for Maine coast as Lee churns northward in the Atlantic

A satellite image from around daybreak Wednesday shows Hurricane Lee spinning over open water between Puerto Rico and Bermuda. The storm is expected to head increasingly to the north.
NOAA/NESDIS/STAR
A satellite image from around daybreak Wednesday shows Hurricane Lee spinning over open water between Puerto Rico and Bermuda. The storm is expected to head increasingly to the north.

The current forecast track shows Lee's center moving toward Maine's coastal border with Canada. But its effects could reach as far south as New York.

Updated September 13, 2023 at 2:57 PM ET

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for part of the Maine coast Wednesday afternoon as Hurricane Lee lost some strength but grew in size.

The hurricane watch extends up the Maine coast from Stonington to the U.S.-Canada border. Forecasters said that area could see hurricane conditions on Saturday.

The center also issued a tropical storm watch for a large area of coastal New England from Watch Hill, R.I., to Stonington, including Block Island, R.I., and Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts. That area could see tropical storm conditions beginning Friday night.

Lee was roiling waters about 370 miles south-southwest of Bermuda Wednesday night and moving north-northwest at 9 mph. While the storm's winds had decreased to 105 mph, its wind field had expanded to hurricane force winds extending 115 miles from its center and tropical storm force winds out to 265 miles from the center.

Here are key things to know about Hurricane Lee as it moves along the U.S. East Coast:

Lee's precise path and impact are coming into focus

Hurricane Lee is expected to speed up its forward motion as it turns more to the north. While its winds will weaken, the large storm will pose flooding and other threats, forecasters say.
/ National Hurricane Center
/
National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Lee is expected to speed up its forward motion as it turns more to the north. While its winds will weaken, the large storm will pose flooding and other threats, forecasters say.

Early Wednesday morning, Lee was moving northwest at a virtual crawl of just 6 mph. It has now started to speed up and is expected to continue that trend into the weekend. It is also expected to continue to lose strength slowly over that time.

The storm will likely show "significant weakening" by this weekend as it runs into unfavorable conditions, including cooler waters north of the Gulf Stream.

As it loses steam, Lee is expected to complete an extratropical transition "before the cyclone's center reaches the coast of Maine, New Brunswick, or Nova Scotia in about 4 days," the NHC said.

But even as it noted that welcome development, the center cautioned, "Lee's expected post-tropical transition will not diminish potential wind, rain, and coastal flooding impacts in New England and Atlantic Canada due to the system's broad wind field."

Even a glancing blow from Lee is dangerous

With such a massive storm, Lee's eyewall doesn't have to make landfall — or come within 100 miles of the shore — to make an impact on land.

Even in areas that remain far from the storm's core, the NHC said "since wind and rainfall hazards will extend well away from the center as Lee grows in size, users should continue to monitor updates to Lee's forecast during the next several days."

The NHC issued a storm surge watch for Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket in Massachusetts, where a surge between 2 and 4 feet is expected and 1 to 3 feet north and south of that area.

Bermuda is under a tropical storm warning

Lee's forecast track sees the storm staying west of Bermuda. But its huge wind field is still expected to affect the island.

The Bermuda Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning on Wednesday, warning that people on and around the island could see average wind speeds from 34 to 63 knots (39 to 72.5 mph), along with "significant waves & swell."

Local conditions are expected to start to improve by Friday, the agency said.

The storm rapidly intensified last week

Lee remained a major hurricane for nearly a week, having vaulted to Category 4 status last Thursday and persisting as a Category 3 through early Wednesday.

Just one day after Lee became a named storm last week, it became a hurricane and intensified at a startlingly rapid pace, quickly becoming a Category 5 storm. It later lost some of that strength — but the storm also got bigger as it slowed down.

The frequency of intense and damaging tropical storms and hurricanes have been linked to climate change. As NOAA has stated, "Warming of the surface ocean from human-induced climate change is likely fueling more powerful tropical cyclones."

The storms' destructive power is then magnified by other factors related to global warming, from rising sea levels to more intense rainfall totals.


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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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