Over the Labor Day weekend, social media feeds flooded with stark warnings about a major storm slamming the East Coast of the United States next week. That hypothetical storm just became Tropical Storm Lee with sustained winds of 50 miles per hour late Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Before you freak out, it is far too early to say with any degree of certainty that a major hurricane will make landfall along the Eastern Seaboard.
On Tuesday morning, Lee was a tropical depression moving west-northwest at 15 miles per hour in a remote area of the central Atlantic, where computer models that were run over the weekend indicated that it would become a hurricane. Those models had some social media users in a tizzy predicting the depression’s becoming Tropical Storm Lee and possibly hitting the U.S. East Coast as a hurricane.
That is understandable. Meteorologists have been watching the system since it began to appear in computer models before the holiday weekend.
If it has an impact on land, the earliest would be this weekend in the Leeward Islands in the northeastern Caribbean.
Some of the biggest hurricanes to hit the East Coast, like an unnamed hurricane that hit Long Island in 1938, or Hugo, which made landfall in South Carolina in 1989, began in a similar region of the central Atlantic, far from land. This storm is expected to become a strong hurricane, if not a major hurricane, and it will track west toward the United States. It could make landfall along the Eastern Seaboard, but it is just as likely, or possibly even more likely, that it will stay out to sea and away from the U.S. East Coast.
Social media posts about a hypothetical storm’s avoiding land aren’t typically shared as much as an image of a forecast model that shows a major storm 14 days away from hitting a major U.S. city. That is why scary posts, such as one that warned of a “horrendous situation for the East Coast of the United States,” took off this weekend.
For now, there are too many unknowns and too many things that could change before the storm comes close to North America. It is likely that this will be a big storm and that it will move west before it turns north and then northeast. The question is when will it make that turn.
It all has to do with the steering currents, and as of Tuesday morning the computer forecast models were indicating an earlier turn toward the north and northeast. That would put Bermuda more at risk than the United States or Canada. More will be known as more data is collected this week and that data is incorporated into the computer models.
Even if this storm doesn’t make a direct landfall anywhere, it is likely to cause rip currents and big waves along the U.S. East Coast next week. This storm is worth monitoring, but not worth freaking out about.