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Hurricane Lee strengthened to a major Category 4 storm Thursday afternoon with forecasters predicting it could eventually swell into a more devastating Category 5 storm.

Lee, which has been swirling in the Atlantic, has been intensifying since earlier in the week and strengthened from a tropical storm into a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday.

Hurricane Lee on Thursday.NOAA

The National Hurricane Center warned that the storm system on Thursday was going to “rapidly intensify” — meaning maximum winds would surge 35 mph in 24 hours or less.

Environmental conditions now look favorable for Lee to strengthen into a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 160 mph by Saturday morning.

As predicted, the storm had increased to a major Category 4 hurricane.

A “major hurricane” is a storm of Category 3 or greater on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Lee was about 780 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph as of 5 p.m. ET Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said. 

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While it’s unclear whether the storm will make landfall, the hurricane center warned that swells generated by Lee are expected to reach areas of the Lesser Antilles on Friday, and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Bahamas, and Bermuda this weekend.

“These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions. Dangerous surf and rip currents are expected to begin along most of the U.S. east Coast beginning Sunday,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

Lee is currently moving west-northwest at 15 mph and will continue on this track with a gradual slowdown in forward speed.

The storm’s long-term track is still uncertain, but most tropical models curve the hurricane to the north, possibly tracking close to Bermuda or between Bermuda and the U.S. East Coast next week.

While its force will fluctuate, Lee “is forecast to remain a powerful major hurricane well into next week,” the hurricane center said.

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