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How hard will Hurricane Lee hit New England? The cold North Atlantic may decide that

by Chloe Baker
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hurricane impact New England

The potential impact of Hurricane Lee on New England is closely tied to the region’s unique geographical factors. New England is renowned for its erratic weather patterns, characterized by formidable nor’easters and heavy snowfall, but hurricanes of significant destructive potential are relatively infrequent occurrences, and they seldom attain the same level of intensity as the tropical cyclones that strike the Southeastern United States.

The geographical location plays a pivotal role in determining the behavior of hurricanes in this area. As Hurricane Lee approaches New England, it confronts a natural barrier in the form of the cold North Atlantic Ocean. This formidable obstacle is expected to significantly diminish the hurricane’s strength, potentially reducing it to a tropical storm by the time it reaches the region on Saturday.

Various factors influence the trajectory and strength of hurricanes, with sea temperature being a critical element. Typically, the warm waters that can intensify a hurricane are found south of Cape Cod. In contrast, the waters in the North Atlantic, situated north of this point, are notably colder.

However, it is important to note that storms in New England, while often less intense than their counterparts in other regions, can still pose substantial threats. Historical records bear witness to this fact, as evidenced by the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which brought winds gusting as high as 186 mph (300 kph) and sustained winds of 121 mph (195 kph) to the Blue Hill Observatory in Massachusetts. Furthermore, the impact of such storms is not limited to coastal areas. For instance, in 2011, Hurricane Irene, which had weakened to a tropical storm, caused historic flooding in Vermont, resulting in an estimated $800 million in damages.

While Hurricane Lee is expected to cause disruptions across New England, its projected path takes it toward Down East Maine and Atlantic Canada. Down East Maine is the easternmost region of the state. The last time Maine was placed under a hurricane watch was in 2008 during Hurricane Kyle, which had weakened to a tropical storm by the time it brushed past the state. The most recent hurricane landfall in Maine occurred in 1969 when Hurricane Gerda struck Eastport. Hurricane Bob, in 1991, also had a significant impact but was downgraded to a tropical storm upon arrival.

Although the frigid North Atlantic waters are anticipated to diminish Lee’s potential for significant damage, the state of Maine is bracing for 20-foot (6-meter) waves and wind gusts of up to 70 mph (112 kph), accompanied by further rainfall in an already saturated region. As a precautionary measure, boaters in Maine and other parts of New England are securing their vessels and removing them from the water due to the hurricane watch.

It is important to note that the most potent hurricanes in Atlantic history have historically made landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Southern United States. This is largely attributed to the role of warm ocean waters in fueling and strengthening these storms. Examples include the catastrophic Galveston Hurricane of August 1900, Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact on southeast Louisiana and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in 2005, and the widespread havoc caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Looking ahead, the future of cyclones in New England remains uncertain. Scientific data suggests that they could become more problematic. The Gulf of Maine, in particular, is experiencing accelerated warming compared to the majority of the world’s oceans. In 2022, it recorded its second-warmest year on record, surpassing the previous record by a fraction of a degree Fahrenheit. The average sea surface temperature stood at 53.66 degrees (12 degrees Celsius), a significant deviation of more than 3.7 degrees from the 40-year average. This warming trend could potentially lead to slower weakening of hurricanes approaching New England in the future and may also contribute to the formation of more potent storms in southern regions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about hurricane impact New England

What is the likelihood of Hurricane Lee having a significant impact on New England?

Hurricane Lee’s impact on New England is expected to be influenced by the region’s unique geographical characteristics. New England is not as prone to destructive hurricanes as some other parts of the United States, primarily due to the cold waters of the North Atlantic that typically weaken hurricanes as they approach the area. While Lee is predicted to reach New England, it’s likely to be downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrives.

Why are hurricanes in New England generally less intense than those in the Southeastern United States?

The intensity of hurricanes in New England is influenced by several factors, with sea temperature being a crucial element. Warm waters in the South, located below Cape Cod, tend to strengthen hurricanes. However, North Atlantic waters, situated north of Cape Cod, are considerably colder. This temperature difference plays a significant role in diminishing the intensity of hurricanes as they move northward.

Can hurricanes in New England still pose significant threats?

Yes, hurricanes in New England can still be dangerous, even if they are generally less intense than hurricanes in other regions. Historical examples, such as the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 and the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011, demonstrate that these storms can bring high winds, heavy rainfall, and substantial damage, not only along the coast but also inland.

Where is Hurricane Lee tracking in New England?

Hurricane Lee is currently tracking toward Down East Maine, which is the easternmost region of the state. While Maine has experienced hurricanes in the past, they are relatively rare events, and Lee’s impact is expected to be mitigated by the cold North Atlantic waters. Nevertheless, the state is preparing for the possibility of significant waves and strong winds.

What factors contribute to the strength and landfall location of hurricanes in the Atlantic?

The strength and landfall location of hurricanes in the Atlantic are influenced by various factors, including sea temperature, atmospheric conditions, and geographical features. Warm ocean waters tend to fuel and strengthen hurricanes, making landfall in regions with warmer waters more likely. Historical records show that the most powerful hurricanes have made landfall in the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Southern United States, where warm waters abound.

How is climate change affecting the potential for hurricanes in New England?

Climate change is causing some concern regarding the future of hurricanes in New England. The Gulf of Maine, in particular, is warming at a faster rate than most of the world’s oceans. This warming trend could potentially lead to slower weakening of hurricanes approaching New England and may also contribute to the formation of more potent storms in southern regions. However, the exact impact of climate change on hurricanes in New England remains an area of ongoing scientific research.

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