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Hurricane Beryl weakens slightly to a Category 3 storm as it approaches the Caribbean

A man walks past boarded up shop windows before the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Sunday.
Chandan Khanna
/
AFP via Getty Images
A man walks past boarded up shop windows before the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Sunday.

Updated July 01, 2024 at 05:09 AM ET

Hurricane Beryl weakened slightly to a category 3 early Monday, the National Hurricane Center said, as the storm churned toward the Windward Islands in the southeastern Caribbean.

Beryl was sustaining wind speeds of about 120 mp, the NHC said. Advisories were in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadine Islands, Grenada, and Tobago. A "life threatening" storm surge is expected to raise water levels by 6 to 9 feet.

"Fluctuations in strength are likely during the next day or so, but Beryl is expected to remain a dangerous major hurricane as its core moves through the Windward Islands into the eastern Caribbean," the NHC said.

On Sunday, Beryl grew into an "extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane," the National Hurricane Center said, making it the first ever Atlantic hurricane to reach Category 4 strength in June.

The upgraded status came just hours before Beryl was expected to make landfall along several Caribbean nations Monday morning.

Previously, the record for the earliest Atlantic hurricane during the calendar year was held by Hurricane Dennis on July 8, 2005, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said in a post on X.

“The reality is that we need to be ready,” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said in a statement on Friday. She urged residents to stock up on medication and to have vital identification documents that might be needed in case there's a reason to evacuate.

By late Sunday afternoon, Beryl had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour and some even stronger gusts as it moved toward the Windward Islands. Category 4 hurricanes, which have maximum sustained winds between 130-156 mph, can cause “catastrophic damage,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Three to 6 inches of rain are expected in Barbados and the Windward Islands, and Beryl could cause “potentially catastrophic” damage from high winds. Forecasters say the major hurricane could also produce a life-threatening storm surge as high as 6 to 9 feet above normal tide levels.

 A forecast shows the probable path of the storm center.
/ National Hurricane Center
/
National Hurricane Center
A forecast shows the probable path of the storm center.

Beryl is a historic storm

A named storm this far east is unusual for June, John Cangialosi, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center, wrote in an advisory Friday. "There have only been a few storms in history that have formed over the central or eastern tropical Atlantic this early in the year,” he wrote.

Beryl is the third earliest Atlantic major hurricane on record behind Alma (1966) and Audrey (1957). 

The storm is also noteworthy for how quickly it has intensified. Beryl went from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 39 hours. Sam Lillo, a weather researcher with the forecasting group DTN, said in a tweet that’s only “been done 6 other times in Atlantic hurricane history. And the EARLIEST date this was achieved before was … September 1.”

Beryl’s strengthening, location and forecast track are more indicative of storms in late August or September — not June.

Beryl is only the second named storm in what was forecast to be an exceptionally busy hurricane season this year. Earlier in June, Tropical Storm Alberto led to torrential flooding for portions of southern Texas and northeastern Mexico, and was responsible for four deaths in the region, according to The Associated Press.

Temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean have been “record-shattering” for about a year, and that extra heat fuels hurricanes and can lead to heavier rains and flooding. While climate scientists expected the oceans to heat up, temperatures have been even hotter than expected in the last year.

The Atlantic hurricane season is supposed to see the most activity in mid-August, even though hurricane season begins on June 1. However, in a report released last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that this year's hurricane season would be “above average,” with 17 to 25 storms, eight to 13 hurricanes and four to seven major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

“Past is not necessarily prologue when it comes to the hurricanes of the future,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said to reporters when the report was released in May. “The key this year, as is any year, is to get prepared and stay prepared.”

Beryl has been intensified by warmer ocean temperatures in the deep Atlantic. NOAA reports that ocean heat content is the highest on record for this time of year. Usually, the El Niño atmospheric oscillation would help suppress hurricane activity, but that pattern is diminishing, which will most likely create a suitable atmosphere for storms like Beryl to form.

Countries in Beryl’s path prepare for impact

Saint Lucia was instituting a “national shutdown” beginning at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, officials announced. Authorities asked anyone on the island to stay inside, away from glass windows and doors, and refrain from going into the ocean.

“Please take all precautions to ensure your safety and protect your property,” the office of Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre said in a statement.

Saint Lucia’s Hewanorra International Airport and George F. L. Charles Airport were halting operations on Sunday evening.

The Grantley Adams International Airport in Christ Church, Barbados, was also shutting down, officials announced.

Emergency shelters there were opening, and businesses in Barbados were asked to close by 7 p.m.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Mansee Khurana
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Joe Hernandez
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Russell Lewis
Russell Lewis is a supervising editor on NPR's National Desk. He coordinates coverage of breaking news and long-range planning of domestic reporting. Lewis is the network's sports editor and he also guides NPR's reporting on aviation and human spaceflight.
Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]