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Heavy Swells Pound Caribbean as Hurricane Lee Charges Through Open Waters

Large swells battered the northeast Caribbean on Saturday night as Hurricane Lee churned nearby through open waters as a Category 2 storm.

The storm, which is not forecast to make landfall, was centered about 455 kilometers northeast of the northern Leeward Islands. Its maximum sustained winds had decreased to 165 kph and it was moving west-northwest at 15 kph.

Earlier this week, Lee grew from a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 storm in just one day amid warm waters and limited wind shear.

"This was one of the fastest rates of strengthening in the Atlantic Basin on record," AccuWeather said in a statement.

Lee is expected to regain some strength Sunday and Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm was forecast to pass well north of the northeast Caribbean in a big relief to people from the British Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico, which are still recovering from hurricanes Irma and Maria that hit in September 2017.

Tropical storm conditions were not expected for any Caribbean island, but breaking waves of up to 5 meters were forecast for Puerto Rico and nearby territories, with authorities warning people to stay out of the water.

"We are concerned about people and boaters who may underestimate the impacts of this passing storm," said Capt. José Díaz of the Coast Guard sector in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "The increase in projected sea states of 10 to 15 feet (3-4.5 meters) severely reduces our ability to respond to a maritime distress with the full use of our resources."

The National Hurricane Center said the seas near the center of the hurricane were expected to peak at 14 meters.

It noted that dangerous surf and rip currents were expected to hit most of the U.S. East Coast starting Sunday, but that the hurricane's impact beyond that is still unclear.

"It is way too soon to know what level of impacts, if any, Lee might have along the U.S. East Coast, Atlantic Canada, or Bermuda late next week," the center said.

Meanwhile, officials in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe warned of up to 8 millimeters of rain in a span of three hours or less for some areas, while officials in the French territories of St. Barts and St. Martin said flooding in some coastal areas was possible.

Lee was forecast to take a northward turn by Wednesday. However, its path after that remained unclear.

"Right now, the area in the United States that really needs to pay attention includes locations from the upper part of the mid-Atlantic coast to New England," said AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

Lee is the 12th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and peaks in September.

Tropical Storm Margot became the 13th named storm after forming Thursday evening, but was far out in the Atlantic and posed no threat to land. It was located about 1,705 kilometers west-northwest of the Cabo Verde Islands late Saturday. Its winds had risen to 85 kph and it was forecast to strengthen into a hurricane early next week. It was moving northwest at 15 kph.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration in August forecast between 14 and 21 named storms this season. Six to 11 of them are expected to become hurricanes, and of those, two to five might develop into major hurricanes.

In the Pacific, Jova weakened to a tropical storm as it spun over open waters far from Mexico's southwest coast and posed no threat to land.

It was about 1,695 kilometers west of the southern tip of Baja California on Saturday night and moving northwest at 15 kph with winds up to 85 kph.