Hurricane Sam strengthens into major Category 4 storm

Hurricane Sam has developed into a Category 4 storm with the possibility to grow stronger, the National Hurricane Center said in a public advisory Saturday. The “small but dangerous” hurricane is one of the earliest 18th named storms to form, beaten only by last season, which was the most active hurricane season on record. 

Maximum sustained winds have increased to approximately 140 miles per hour with even higher gusts. The storm’s winds extend outward up to 25 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles. 

“Additional strengthening is expected through tonight,” the National Hurricane Center said Saturday afternoon. “Some fluctuations in the hurricane’s intensity are then possible early next week.”

As of Saturday afternoon, Sam is moving west-northwest at nearly 10 miles per hour in the Atlantic ocean. A slower movement to the west-northwest is forecast throughout the weekend. It is not yet clear if the storm will make landfall in the U.S.

Swells are expected to reach the Lesser Antilles group of islands in the Caribbean Sea by early next week, which could cause “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.” The hurricane center urged those in the area to consult products from their local weather offices.

Sam strengthened into a Category 2 storm late Friday and is considered by the hurricane center to be a “small hurricane,” although it has already met the criteria for rapid intensification. It is the 16th storm to rapidly intensify over the past two seasons in the Atlantic. 

Jeff Berardelli contributed reporting.