Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Beryl exploded into a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph Sunday — the earliest a storm of that intensity has been recorded in the Atlantic — leading Caribbean islands to prepare for violent storms to strike Monday morning.

The National Hurricane Center said Beryl could pose “life-threatening” problems in the Lesser Antilles, an island chain on the eastern side of the Caribbean Sea. Hurricane warnings have been issued for Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadine Islands, Grenada and Tobago, while tropical storm advisories stretched as far north as the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

“All preparations should be rushed to completion today,” the Hurricane Center posted at 11 a.m. Sunday. Forecasters expect Beryl to move across the Caribbean and toward the northwestern region of the sea, affecting the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Researchers have been warning for months that the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season could be one for the record books, and now it is.

As of 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, Beryl was approaching Barbados at 21 mph from about 240 miles to the southeast.

St. Lucian Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre said on Facebook that emergency service officials declared a national shutdown for the country of about 170,000 people starting at 8:30 p.m. local time Sunday.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Meteorological Service on Sunday issued a flash-flood warning to its 100,000 residents.

At midday Sunday, Michael Tiller was looking at blue skies and calm, clear blue water from the patio of a rented vacation home in Barbados.

“You can’t really tell there’s a hurricane coming,” the Michigan resident said. “It’s a really beautiful day out here.”

Tiller plans to hunker down as soon as the winds pick up. The property managers of the home he is sharing with his family for the week came in earlier Sunday and boarded up the windows and glass doors.

The family is bracing for strong winds and power outages, but Tiller isn’t too concerned.

“There will be adversity, but in the grander scheme of things it will be fine for us,” he said. The family is planning to return to the United States on Wednesday.

The storm wasn’t expected in Barbados for several hours, but Doriel Gill-Skinner said Sunday afternoon that she was already “exhausted.”

Gill-Skinner — the volunteer chairperson for the St. Michael North West District Emergency Organization in Bridgetown, the Barbadian capital — has been making the rounds to tell community members about a shelter that will be available to them if necessary.

Gill-Skinner will be in charge of her neighborhood’s shelter, which can house up to 50 people.

Before she began taking care of others, however, she said she made her own grab-and-go bag of nonperishable food items, water and a change of clothes.

“You have to start at home first,” she said. “You can only take care of others if you and are safe and prepared.”

She will also let out her dogs, Dana and Racquel, from their pen into the backyard, which has shelter for them, before she leaves for the shelter. Leaving animals locked in pens is not advised in storms, she said.

Gill-Skinner said she is not afraid of the storm.

“The mood in the community is calm and confident,” she said. “We are taking the storm seriously and are prepared for it.”

Beryl went from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane in 36 hours; it intensified by 75 mph during that time frame. According to Sam Lillo, a researcher at DTN Weather, that level of rapid intensification has never happened in June and has happened only twice in July.

On Sunday morning, it reached Category 4 intensity.

There is no precedent for a storm to intensify this quickly, nor reach this strength, in this part of the ocean during the month of June. Records date to 1851.

There is a firm link between rapid intensification (the strengthening of hurricanes) and human-induced climate change. Ocean waters are running 3 or 4 degrees above average, reminiscent of August rather than June. In some cases, records are being set. It’s unsurprising that the atmosphere is responding accordingly.

Before now, the Atlantic had seen two major hurricanes in June — Audrey in 1957 and Alma in 1966. “Major” hurricanes are those rated as Category 3 or higher. Audrey and Alma occurred in the Gulf of Mexico as early-season “homegrown” storms. The Atlantic’s Main Development Region, between northern South America and Africa, was believed to be inhospitable to major hurricanes during the month of June — until now.

Beryl will slam the Lesser Antilles on Monday, probably the Windward Islands, with winds of 130 mph or more. Because its strongest winds are concentrated in the center, the specific track of the storm’s eye will determine its exact impacts.

The National Hurricane Center is expecting a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet, as well as 3 to 6 inches of rain.

High pressure to the north will act as a force field over the central Atlantic, preventing Beryl from escaping out to sea. That’s why the storm will continue moving west.

By Tuesday, Beryl will enter the eastern Caribbean, still moving westward or slightly west-northwestward. It may be weakening acutely by then as it encounters shear, or changing winds with height, that work to knock it off-kilter.

Its eventual track in the Caribbean is unknown. Jamaica and Cuba could both be in play. So could the Yucatán Peninsula.

It’s unlikely that Beryl would thread the gap between Cancún and western Cuba, entering the Gulf of Mexico.

In St. Lucia, Rhyesa Joseph said Sunday afternoon that she is ready.

From her Vieux Fort neighborhood at the tip of the 28-mile-long island, she has done what she can for herself, ensuring all her electronics are charged and setting aside essentials.

Her larger concern is reserved for the safety of others on the island and what the storm will leave behind, she said.

“I am very concerned about the economic implications of the hurricane, the damage to infrastructure, the food insecurity it may cause,” she said. “We know what has happened to our neighbors because of hurricanes, and we ourselves have experienced Hurricane Tomas and other storms.”

Hurricane Tomas killed at least eight people in the Windward Islands before going on to kill 35 more in Haiti over about a week in fall 2010, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm caused about $336 million of damage in St. Lucia. There was also a significant agricultural impact, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency: About 98 percent of the banana and plantain crop in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was damaged.

Joseph, executive director of the Folk Research Center on the island, said St. Lucia is known for its tourism but there is a robust farming and fishing community. She worries about how they will fare.

On Sunday afternoon, Joseph said it was “a quintessentially beautiful day,” and the weather was sunny and hot.

“Literally the calm before the storm,” she said.

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