Storms this strong don’t typically make it this far east. But Lorenzo has not been a normal storm — it has been a record-breaker.
Lorenzo was a tropical storm last Monday, tracing a northwesterly route from the coast of West Africa. By Wednesday, it was a hurricane. And on Saturday night, it gained Category 5 status, with maximum sustained winds of around 160 miles per hour.
At the time, it was about 1,420 miles southwest of the Azores, an archipelago of volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, about 850 miles west of Portugal, their protectorate. The nine major islands are home to about 250,000 people.
No Category 5 storm had ever been recorded that far north and east in the Atlantic, according to Andrew Latto, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Since then, Lorenzo has lost some strength — it was a Category 2 hurricane as of Monday afternoon — but its path and size remain unique. The storm is very broad, with tropical-force winds covering a span of around 500 miles.
As it continues on what is now a northeasterly path, meteorologists have warned the people of the Azores that a storm of uncharacteristic strength could be at their doorstep by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. There is also a chance that tropical storm-force winds could reach as far as Ireland and the United Kingdom, according to the hurricane center.
“This is something totally unusual for this kind of environment,” said Miguel Miranda, the president of the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere, which is supervised by the government’s Ministry of the Sea. “Most of the infrastructure is not really prepared for this kind of situation.”
The institute issued a hurricane warning for the Western and Central Azores, and the National Hurricane Center warned that “rainfall could cause life-threatening flash flooding” on the islands.
The president of the Azorean regional government, Vasco Cordeiro, met with other officials on Sunday to prepare for the storm.
“Proper steps are being taken in the areas of public works, transport, social solidarity, housing, health and education, among other sectors, in addition to the actions that are being carried out by the Azores Region Civil Protection and Fire Service,” the government said in a statement on Sunday.
Mr. Latto said that while the looping path of Lorenzo was not very unusual for this time of year, its combination of size, strength and location was rare.
He added that there was no single explanation for the hurricane’s strength and behavior. “You had warm waters, low shear, and there’s a decent amount of moisture,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance.”
Maritime traffic should be on the lookout for very big waves and swells around the Azores in the coming days, Mr. Latto said, adding that ripple effects — including riptides — could be felt all across the Atlantic basin.
A Category 5 storm is one with sustained winds of 157 miles per hour or faster. It is the strongest category on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which is based on sustained wind speeds. One or two Category 5 storms have formed in the Atlantic each year since 2016 — before that, they were less common.
The last Atlantic storm to reach Category 5 status was Dorian, which destroyed communities in the Bahamas when it made landfall there earlier this month.
Hurricanes are most common in the northwestern Pacific Ocean — where they are often called typhoons — and in the western Atlantic Ocean. They also occur in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, but they are extremely rare in the South Atlantic, and cannot form over colder waters near the poles.
The relationship between hurricanes and global warming is complicated, but there is a consensus that human-driven climate change is making hurricanes more intense. Warmer oceans generally make storms stronger, and rising sea levels can contribute to greater flooding from storm surge. Recent research suggests that climate change has made storms wetter than they have been in the past, and that Atlantic storms are now more likely to move slowly or stall, which can be dangerous if they linger over places where people live.
Mr. Miranda said that while he could not attribute any single storm or event to global warming alone, it was clear that warmer water contributed to storms’ strength.
Lorenzo, he added, “is not normal.”
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