By Chris Gilberti | September 16, 2023
National Hurricane Center forecast cone and wind field estimate for Hurricane Lee at 8pm AST Sep. 15, 2023
Photo Credit: National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Lee, once a strong category 5 hurricane which has since weakened to a category 1, has tracked closer to the United States, but is missing a direct landfall on the east coast. After the storm rapidly intensified last week, it seemed to have potential to maintain major hurricane strength as it moved towards the mainland US.
Just after reaching its peak category 5 strength, which is defined as having wind speeds greater than 157 mph, the storm began to weaken. As it moved further north towards the New England coast, it continued to pose a threat to land, although over the last few days, forecasted tracks for the storm have kept its center further east making landfall in Nova Scotia, Canada.
With coastal New England seeing the worst of the impacts from this storm, the weather in Albany will stay fair, comfortable, and early fall-like. With the storm passing to the east of Albany, the high level outflow cirrus clouds even made for a beautiful sunset this past Friday over Albany and much of the northeast.
Though the center of the storm is tracking east of New England and is making landfall in Canada, that does not mean the US is missing out on all impacts. Tropical storm force winds extend far from the center of the storm, sparking the National Hurricane Center to have issued Tropical Storm Warnings from Cape Cod, Massachusetts through coastal New Hampshire and into Downeast Maine. Another concern was coastal flooding with potentially one to three foot storm surges from the coast of Maine all the way south to Long Island, N.Y.
After completing an impressive rapid intensification, Lee gained widespread attention for its extreme wind speeds and its potential to track near the east coast of the United States. Just after this rapid intensification, however, Lee encountered an area of high wind shear which served to bring it down to a category 3 with just over 110 mph winds. Wind shear means that there are fast winds occurring in the upper part of the storm.
While fast winds are associated with hurricanes, when these winds occur within the convection of the storm in the mid to upper levels, this shear can affect the storm's structure, outflow, and overall organization. This shear ended up weakening the storm more than expected and it was not quite able to organize itself enough to regain the strength it once had as it continued to track towards the United States.
Sunset over UAlbany on Friday Sep. 15, 2023 as Hurricane Lee’s outflow cirrus clouds sit overhead.
Photo Credit: Marissa McGuire / Twitter
As Hurricane Lee tracked westward across the Atlantic, confidence was not very high in terms of where the storm would go after it began to turn north. A delicate and hard to predict interaction would occur between a high pressure system over the Atlantic and a low pressure system over the northeast, where the exact locations of each of these systems would determine where Lee would track.
By the middle of the week, weather models seemed to form a decent consensus that there would likely be some impacts by Lee in the New England area, whether the outer edges of the storm grazed the shore or it made direct landfall. While it seemed for a day or so that models were suggesting a direct landfall in New England was likely, they eventually shifted further east. As it now continues off the shore of New England into the Gulf of Maine, it will likely get pushed further east to make landfall in Nova Scotia in the Canadian Maritimes.