Hurricane Sam will likely intensify rapidly this weekend

Another name is added to the long list of 2021 Atlantic storms.
A satellite image of a hurricane, which appears as a white swirling vortex over dark blue water.

Hurricane Sam is predicted to reach Category 3 strength. NOAA

Hurricane Sam, the 18th named storm of the 2021 hurricane season (and the fourth named storm this week alone), is barreling west across the Atlantic Ocean and just this morning strengthened into a hurricane. By Saturday afternoon, Sam is expected to be Category 3 or higher. 

Over the course of one day, Sam went from winds of 35 mph to 70 mph—what meteorologists call a “rapid intensification,” according to CNN. Currently, the storm is about 1,470 miles southeast of the Leeward Islands, which include Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Martin, and the Virgin Islands. The storm is expected to move closer to the islands with on-land impacts felt over the next week. 

“What is not clear at this point is what impacts it will have on land,” meteorologist Dave Hennen told CNN. “Right now, it looks like it may pass north of the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico early next week, but that could change.” 

[Related: The average hurricane season is officially more intense.]

Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Bermuda and the East Coast of the US should be keeping a close eye on the path of the hurricane, he adds, because models aren’t 100 percent in agreement on where the hurricane will hit—except they definitely agree it will likely be powerful. 

Tomorrow is when Sam will likely develop into a “major” hurricane with winds above 110 mph, Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at the hurricane center in Miami, told The New York Times. Sam would make for the fourth major hurricane of the season, following in the steps of Grace, Ida, and Larry. 

Hurricanes and climate change continue to show evidence of being linked. A warmer climate can lead to more intense, wet, and potentially frequent storms, and has actually lengthened hurricane season. 

Sam marks the second-earliest “S” storm in history, trailing only last year’s Sally, which formed on Sept. 11 of 2020. The first named storm of 2021 hit on May 23, marking the seventh year that a major storm appeared in the Atlantic before the official start date of June 1. 

And the season’s not over. “With more than two months to go in the hurricane season,” Feltgen said, “it is certainly possible that the 2021 Atlantic list of names will be exhausted.”