Hurricane Lorenzo, Strongest Storm Ever This Far East in the Atlantic, Roars Toward the Azores

Satellite images captured by NOAA's GOES-16 (GOES-East) showed Hurricane Lorenzo as it rapidly intensified from a Category 2 storm to a Category 4 storm on Sept. 26.
Satellite images captured by NOAA's GOES-16 (GOES-East) showed Hurricane Lorenzo as it rapidly intensified from a Category 2 storm to a Category 4 storm on Sept. 26. (Image credit: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

Hurricane season's most intense period is winding down, but it isn't quite done with us yet. And the latest storm to watch is whipping things up much farther east than where powerful hurricanes are typically found.

Lorenzo formed as a tropical storm on Sept. 23 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and it reached Category 5 strength on Sept. 28, with winds nearing 160 mph (260 km/h), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported. Since the 1920s, 35 Category 5 storms — hurricanes with winds of 157 mph (252 km/h) or higher — have formed in the Atlantic. But Lorenzo is the first hurricane of this strength to appear so far to the east — about 650 miles farther east than Hurricane Hugo, the former record-holder that pummeled the Caribbean with Category 5 winds in 1989, according to the Weather Channel

Lorenzo, now a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 km/h), is barreling toward the Azores — an archipelago that lies 972 miles (1,564 km) off the coast of Portugal — and is expected to make landfall early Wednesday morning, according to an NHC advisory issued today (Sept. 30) at 5 a.m. AST.  

Related: Hurricane Season 2019: How Long It Lasts and What to Expect

NHC hurricane data dating to 1851 show just how much of an outlier Lorenzo is. Most powerful storms that formed in the Atlantic reached their peak strength as they neared the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. But lonely Lorenzo, all alone in the middle of the ocean, is in "a league of its own for this time of year," climate scientist and FEMA strategic planner Michael Lowry said in a tweet.

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"A Category 5 hurricane this far east this late in the season is almost unbelievable. Wow doesn't do this justice," Lowry said in another tweet.

As Lorenzo travels on a northeast trajectory, its strong winds are sending powerful swells through the North Atlantic, creating rip currents and surf conditions that could be life-threatening, the NHC warned in the advisory. Waves building toward the Azores and Europe will be "enormous," with some nearing heights of 100 feet (31 meters), NHC scientist Eric Blake said in a tweet.

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Although Lorenzo is expected to weaken somewhat over the next 48 hours, the reach of its winds will likely expand. With tropical storm force winds reaching hundreds of miles from its center, the storm will remain "a significant hurricane" as it nears the Azores, according to the NHC.

Atlantic hurricane season typically winds down around the end of November, though the most powerful storms emerge between August and October, according to the NHC

Originally published on Live Science.

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Mindy Weisberger
Live Science Contributor

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.