Forecasters say Hurricane Lorenzo has become the largest and most powerful hurricane that has made it so far east in the Atlantic.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Lorenzo rapidly grew to a Category 4 storm Thursday, making it the region’s third major hurricane of the record-breaking season. The storm’s quick growth was unusual for hurricanes in the Atlantic, which usually gain intensity further west.
By 11 a.m. EDT Friday, Lorenzo was located about 1,600 miles southwest of the Azores Islands, moving north-northwest over the central Atlantic at 14 mph.
The storm is powerful — maximum sustained winds clocked in at 140 mph — and large: Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds reach up to 265 miles.
Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University, called Lorenzo “an interesting case.”
Even though water temperatures were near their long-term average values, the storm fed off of low wind shear and ample moisture, Klotzbach said.
“The environment is nearly perfect for it to be as strong as it can be given the water temperatures and upper-level atmospheric temperatures that it has been given,” he said. “Most hurricanes don’t reach their maximum potential intensity, because even if water temperatures are warmer than what Lorenzo had, shear and moisture content aren’t as conducive.”
Only Hurricane Julia, in 2010, intensified to Category 4 status farther east in the Atlantic than Lorenzo did, according to Weather.com. Julia’s estimated winds peaked at 140 mph. Many others have seen far greater winds: In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma had winds estimated near 180 mph. Hurricane Gilbert, in 1998, saw 185 mph winds.
Forecasters expect Lorenzo to gradually weaken as it continues moving north on Saturday before turning toward the northeast on Sunday.
While the hurricane doesn’t pose any immediate threat to land, swells generated by Lorenzo could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions along the northeastern coast of South America and portions of the Windward Islands, the NHC said.
Tropical Storm Karen, meanwhile will continue to dissipate over the weekend, the NHC said. It was about 390 miles southeast of Bermuda on Friday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.
September is the peak month for hurricane and tropical storm activity in both the Atlantic and Pacific, according to NOAA. Klotzbach said conditions are ripe for an “above-average” end to the 2019 hurricane season.
“We still have October and November to go, so it remains to be seen exactly how much above-average the season will end up being,” Klotzbach said.
Earlier this month, Hurricane Dorian became the fifth Category 5 hurricane in the past four Atlantic hurricane seasons, joining Matthew, Irma, Maria and Michael, each of which left a trail of death and destruction.
The NHC expected to issue an updated hurricane at 5 p.m. Friday.