Portugal Is Facing the Region’s Strongest Atlantic Storm Since 1842

(Bloomberg) -- After a three-week journey around the Atlantic Ocean, Leslie was on track to make landfall at Portugal’s coast late Saturday with hurricane-force winds -- only the third time in 176 years that a storm this powerful has made it to the Iberian Peninsula.

Storm warnings cover Portugal, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere. Leslie’s sustained winds fell to 75 miles an hour, the minimum to qualify as a hurricane, at midday Saturday as it raced toward the coast at more than 30 mph. The storm was about 315 kilometers (195 miles) west-southwest of Lisbon at 4 p.m. local time.

Leslie is forecast to be a powerful post-tropical cyclone by the time it reaches the Iberian peninsula. After landfall, rapid weakening is anticipated, and Leslie is forecast to degenerate into a broad low pressure area over Spain in a day or so.

The storm could cause $4 billion to $5 billion in economic impacts as it crosses the peninsula, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research.

“Dangerous winds, surf and heavy rainfall will affect portions of Portugal and Spain,” the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

Leslie is expected to bring near hurricane-strength winds to portions of Portugal, Dan Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the Hurricane Center, wrote in an analysis. In addition, Leslie will bring as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain.

“Whether it will be technically a tropical cyclone or not, it is going to be a big storm for them,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, an IBM company. “It’s kind of unprecedented for them.”

In 1842, Spain was hit by a large storm that scientists concluded was a hurricane in a 2008 study. On Oct. 11, 2005, Vince made landfall near Huelva, Spain, about 383 miles southwest of Madrid, as a tropical depression with sustained winds of 35 miles per hour.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for Madeira Island, an autonomous region of Portugal in the Atlantic off the African coast. Cold ocean water and wind shear will disrupt Leslie’s structure, robbing it of its tropical characteristics.

Portugal Is Facing the Region’s Strongest Atlantic Storm Since 1842

While its winds aren’t close to those with Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle this week, Leslie is about 20 percent larger in size. Tropical-storm strength winds reach out 230 miles from its center, about the distance between New York and Boston, and hurricane-force winds extend 70 miles.

Leslie became a named storm on Sept. 23 and since then has wandered around the central Atlantic waxing and waning in strength. It became a hurricane again on Wednesday.

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