RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hurricane Lee is now a category 5 storm.
At 11 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said the storm's maximum sustained winds were up to 160 mph with gusts of 195 mph.
Lee is moving west-northwest at 15 mph and that is expected to continue through Friday. The major hurricane was about 870 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands.
It was a category 2 storm at 11 a.m. and escalated quickly. Forecasters warned it could become the first Category 5 storm of the Atlantic season.
"The environment around the cyclone looks ideal for rapid intensification," the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Lee was not expected to make landfall while on a projected path that will take it near the northeast Caribbean, although forecasters said tropical storm conditions are possible on some islands.
Hurricane-force winds are being felt up to 25 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 90 miles.
Life-threatening surf was expected to hit the Lesser Antilles on Friday and reach the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Bahamas and Bermuda this weekend, the center said.
"We will see waves between 10 and 15 feet, so we don't want anyone on the beaches," said Ernesto Morales with the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
While Lee is currently tracking toward the southern U.S. East Coast, long-term forecast models still show the storm making a northerly turn thanks in part to a front coming off the east coast of the United States. The ABC11 First Alert Weather Team continues to monitor all the data and will alert you if the storm poses a threat to North Carolina.
Lee is the 12th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and peaks in September.
The Associated Press contributed.