Hurricane Lorenzo rapidly strengthened into a scale-topping category five hurricane Saturday evening, with maximum sustained winds reaching an incredible 160 MPH as it slowly heads north towards Euorpe.
This breaks the record for both the easternmost and northernmost category five hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean; before this sudden strengthening, Lorenzo was already the strongest storm ever recorded so far east in the Atlantic.
The hurricane, which poses no threat to the United States, will approach the Azores Islands and possibly the British Isles next week as a much weaker storm.
This is the second spike in Lorenzo’s strength in the past couple of days. The hurricane’s first peak on Thursday night saw maximum sustained winds climb up to 145 MPH. It’s incredibly rare to see such a strong storm so far east in the Atlantic Ocean; the last storm to grow so strong achieved its peak intensity hundreds of miles to Lorenzo’s west.
After some brief weakening, and against all odds, Lorenzo’s eyewall became very well organized on Saturday evening and the storm rapidly strengthened into a category five hurricane.
The above infrared satellite image (via Tropical Tidbits) shows that classically symmetrical appearance to the hurricane’s core, complete with extremely cold cloud tops in the immediate eyewall. Bitterly cold cloud tops are a sign of intense thunderstorm activity, which is necessary for a hurricane to intensify.
Lorenzo is the second category five hurricane we’ve seen in the Atlantic Ocean so far this year, and the sixth such storm to form in the Atlantic in the last four years.
This hurricane would be an impressive sight anywhere on Earth, but especially so for this part of the Atlantic Ocean. Lorenzo is seriously out of place for such a large and intense hurricane.
The previous easternmost category five on record, according to meteorologist Eric Blake, occurred 30 years ago when Hurricane Hugo topped the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale about 600 miles west of where Lorenzo peaked.
A large ridge of high pressure over the western Atlantic blocked the storm from tracking west toward the United States, forcing it instead to move north-northeast toward the Azores Islands.
The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center indicates that the storm could approach the Azores on Tuesday and Wednesday as a hurricane. Hurricane Lorenzo has a large wind field; even if the center of the storm misses a direct landfall in the Azores, it’s likely that tropical storm conditions will affect at least some of the islands as the hurricane passes off to the west.
Lorenzo should lose its tropical characteristics by the end of the week as it approaches the British Isles, transitioning into an extratropical cyclone, or a storm that features frontal boundaries and derives its energy from the jet stream instead of thunderstorms around the low-pressure center.
A storm’s wind field tends to expand during extratropical transition, which could expose Ireland and Great Britain to a period of dangerous winds and heavy rain on Friday and Saturday.