Hurricane Lee moves past Long Island this weekend, and other than dangerous rip currents and beach erosion, it should miss the island. NewsdayTV's Bill Korbel takes a look at this weekend's forecast.  Credit: NewsdayTV

Hurricane Lee could bring gusting winds and waves as high as 15 feet to local beaches this week as it turns north and expands, meteorologists said.

Though the storm is predicted to pass east of Long Island, dangerous rip currents were expected to last through the weekend, along with potential for beach flooding and erosion that will peak Saturday, according to a National Hurricane Center briefing Tuesday evening.

The prospect of sustained tropical force winds faster than 39 mph was only 5% to 15%, but wind gusts of up to 30 mph could begin Friday along the coast, with 45-mph gusts for the East End, the National Weather Service said. 

Also Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was deploying 50 members of the New York National Guard to begin storm preparations on Long Island, and experts said the speed with which Lee had intensified late last week was noteworthy. 

Lee was a Category 3 hurricane Tuesday afternoon, south of Bermuda but churning northwest at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, according to the Hurricane Center. Lee was predicted to weaken somewhat but remain massive in its reach, with hurricane-force winds extending 125 miles from the storm center and weaker tropical-force winds extending up to 240 miles. 

The Center’s advisory showed Long Island outside of a prediction “cone,” with landfall forecast for Maine and coastal Canada over the weekend, but warned that wind and rainfall hazards would extend well away from the center of the storm as Lee grows in size. 

Joe Pollina, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Upton station, said current predictions call for minimal coastal flooding with a low chance of heavy rains, though that could change by midweek. And swimming — still possible at Long Island beaches with extended late-summer hours — could be a bad idea, he warned, saying, "Anyone who does decide to go in should swim near a lifeguard or not go in.” 

Kevin Reed, associate dean for research and associate professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said Lee had late last week undergone “rapid intensification,” a common development for Category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes that means its winds accelerated by at least 35 mph over 24 hours. Except in Lee’s case, the intensification was 85 mph. 

“That’s one of the strongest changes in intensity over a 24-hour period that we’ve observed,” primed by rising surface seawater temperatures, Reed said. 

Over the last century, surface seawater temperatures have increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the North Atlantic by more than 1 degree. “Hurricanes draw their energy from the upper ocean and a warm ocean has more energy that hurricanes can draw from,” Reed said. 

Hochul, in a release from her office, said state personnel and assets such as bucket trucks and wood chippers were being readied “out of an abundance of caution … New Yorkers in coastal areas should watch the forecast and be ready to act, if necessary, to stay safe.” 

Some Long Island beaches remained open early this week, but the officials in charge of them said they were monitoring conditions. 

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said in a statement from a representative that swimming at town beaches would be prohibited Wednesday through Saturday because of rip currents. Lifeguards will remain on duty, he said.

George Gorman, Long Island regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said Tuesday in an email that lifeguards at state beaches had not yet seen any effects from the hurricane but had begun normal preparations for an offshore storm. Those include removing lifeguard equipment, trash receptacles, signs and equipment from beaches. Workers had also shored up the wall of sand in front of the Central Mall at Jones Beach and readied pallets of sandbags at some buildings to place if needed. 

In Oyster Bay, Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said lifeguards were not on duty during the week at Tobay Beach but were scheduled to work next weekend. Swimmers should “use extreme caution” during the week and should consider visiting Tobay’s bay-side beach or the spray park, he said. 

While “the weather is still beautiful,” his town has a stockpile of tons of sand to draw on in case Lee turns ugly and erodes the beach, he said.

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