▶ Watch Video: Hurricane Lee predicted to stay offshore as it passes by New York City

Hurricane Lee was churning slowly toward the northwest Monday morning as a powerful Category 3 storm, sustaining the strength it regained Sunday after weakening the previous day. Its effects were already being felt along the southeast U.S. coastline, and forecasters said Lee would make its presence felt across a wide region well into the week. 

The National Hurricane Center warned early Monday morning that “dangerous surf and rip currents have begun to affect portions of the southeastern U.S. coast, and these conditions are forecast to spread northward along much of the U.S. East Coast during the next couple of days.”

Lee intensified quickly over the Atlantic Ocean’s very warm waters late last week, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday, and then into a massive Category 5 hurricane by Thursday night. Over the weekend it weakened to a Category 2 storm, but regained some of its strength Sunday and by Monday morning was still packing sustained winds of about 120 miles per hour.

  A satellite image of Hurricane Lee over the Atlantic Ocean. Sept. 9, 2023. 


Where is Hurricane Lee heading?

As of 5 a.m. ET on Monday, Lee had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It was centered about 340 miles north of the northern Leeward Islands, and it was traveling northwest at 7 mph over the Atlantic.

“Slow west-northwestward motion is expected during the next couple of days, followed by a gradual turn toward the north by midweek,” the hurricane center said, noting that its current forecast track would see the storm “pass well north of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico during the next day or two.”  

The Leewards are a group of islands where the Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean. They include the Virgin Islands, St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Guadeloupe.

A map shows the location and projected path of Hurricane Lee in the western Atlantic Ocean, as of 5 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2023.

NOAA/National Weather Service

Large ocean swells generated by Lee reached the Lesser Antilles Saturday, and reached the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Hispaniola over the weekend, the hurricane center said.

“These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the agency reported. 

There were no coastal warnings or watches in effect as of early Monday morning, the hurricane center said.

Where will Hurricane Lee make landfall? 

It’s too early to say whether Hurricane Lee will make landfall, or where it would hit if it does, forecasters have said. 

CBS News senior weather and climate producer David Parkinson estimated Monday, “if you sum up all the probabilities,” the odds are about 2/3 against any U.S. landfall and a 1/3 chance of landfall along the northeast U.S. coast. He estimated the chances at only about 2% of Lee hitting between the Hamptons, on New York’s Long Island, and Buzzard’s Bay, at the western edge of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and about 5% from Cape Cod to Portland, Maine. 

“A down east Maine landfall is probably hovering in the 20-25% range,” he said, adding that it would likely be a “weak Category 1 or a strong tropical storm” at that point, “likely late Saturday or early Sunday” this coming weekend.

Earlier, Parkinson had laid out a few possible scenarios for Lee. One would involve a cold front coming off the East Coast that could trap Lee and push it north against the coastline, bringing potentially stormy weather to areas along the coast.

However, if no cold front forms, Parkinson explained, Lee would then potentially stay out at sea for a longer period until it reaches Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. By that point, it would be significantly weakened.

Chris Warren, meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said Friday that “regardless” of Lee’s path, it will still bring “large waves and dangerous rip currents up and down the East Coast.” 

Will Hurricane Lee hit the Northeast?

CBS New York noted that the forecast models last week kept going back and forth on the track of the storm.

The ECMWF, or European model, has Lee staying out to sea and not making a direct landfall, but coming very close to the U.S. mainland. Meanwhile, the GFS, or American model, has Lee scraping Cape Cod, and then likely heading into the Canadian Maritimes.

CBS Boston reports, “This is a very long-range forecast and LOTS can and will change in the coming days. So, by no means should anyone on the East Coast (or in New England) write this storm off and put your guard down.”

Dangerous surf and rip currents are expected to begin along most of the U.S. East Coast Sunday and Monday and worsen through the week, the NHC said in an update Saturday morning. 

Is Hurricane Lee going to hit Florida?

Hurricane Lee is not forecast to impact Florida. CBS Miami chief meteorologist and hurricane specialist Ivan Cabrera Lee said the storm system was expected to turn to the north and away from the southeast U.S. coast, but weather experts will continue to monitor its progress and track it closely.

Florida is currently recovering from Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall along the Gulf Coast last Wednesday and left a trail of damage across the Big Bend region — the area where the Florida peninsula meets the panhandle.

Idalia caused severe flooding in Florida and other states including Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, before moving out to sea. Several deaths have been attributed to the storm, and the financial toll of the hurricane could reach as high as $20 billion, CBS News previously reported.

Coastal Florida towns begin major cleanup after Hurricane Idalia


Hurricane Lee spaghetti models

Spaghetti weather models, or spaghetti plots, are computer models showing the possible paths a storm may take as it develops. These models don’t predict the impact or when a storm may hit, according to the Weather Channel, but focus on showing which areas might potentially be at risk. 

Spaghetti models for Hurricane Lee mostly show the storm traveling over the ocean. A spaghetti model for Lee created Saturday, seen below, shows most projected paths curving northward and remaining out over the Atlantic, skirting the U.S. coast, but a few veer more to the west for a potential impact along the U.S. Mid-Atlantic or New England coast late next week.

A spaghetti model showing the potential paths of Hurricane Lee. Sept. 9, 2023. 

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Another set was posted by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore Friday, who wrote: “Some solutions into late next week (shown below) are too close to ignore. Some don’t touch land. This is all common with something in the 7-10 day away range.”  

Will Hurricane Lee hit the Carolinas?

Some models showed the hurricane passing close to the Carolina coast, but according to CBS affiliate WNCN in Raleigh-Durham, there were “no indicators this storm will directly impact North Carolina” at this time. 

Forecasters at the station said that “steering flows should take Hurricane Lee away from the East Coast,” with the storm expected to curve north, then northeast. 

What are the hurricane category wind speeds?

Hurricanes are rated on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which includes five categories based on the storm’s sustained wind speeds. Here is a look at how the categories break down and how the National Hurricane Center describes the potential level of damage such storms can cause if they make landfall:

Category 1: Sustained wind speed of 74-95 mph
     “Very dangerous winds will produce some damage”

Category 2: Sustained wind speed of 96-110 mph
     “Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage”

Category 3: Sustained wind speed of 111-129 mph 
     “Devastating damage will occur”

Category 4: Sustained wind speed of 130-156 mph 
     “Catastrophic damage will occur”

Category 5: Sustained wind speed of 157 mph or higher  
     “Catastrophic damage will occur”

Any storm of Category 3 or higher is considered a “major hurricane” with the potential for “significant loss of life and damage.”